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Title: The Border Boys with the Texas Rangers
Author: Goldfrap, John Henry
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Border Boys with the Texas Rangers" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



[Illustration: THE NEXT INSTANT JACK AND THE PONY WENT ROLLING AND
PLUNGING OFF THE TRAIL DOWN TOWARD THE RIVER.—_Page 36._]


  ╔══════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════╗
  ║                                                              ║
  ║                       THE BORDER BOYS                        ║
  ║                                                              ║
  ║                    WITH THE TEXAS RANGERS                    ║
  ║ ════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════ ║
  ║                    By FREMONT B. DEERING                     ║
  ║ ━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━ ║
  ║                          AUTHOR OF                           ║
  ║                                                              ║
  ║  “The Border Boys on the Trail,” “The Border Boys with the   ║
  ║   Mexican Rangers,” “The Border Boys Across the Frontier,”   ║
  ║ “The Border Boys in the Canadian Rockies,” “The Border Boys  ║
  ║                   Along the St. Lawrence.”                   ║
  ║                                                              ║
  ║                        [Illustration]                        ║
  ║                                                              ║
  ║ ════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════ ║
  ║                                                              ║
  ║                      A. L. BURT COMPANY                      ║
  ║                                                              ║
  ║                     Publishers New York                      ║
  ║                                                              ║
  ║                     Printed in U. S. A.                      ║
  ║                                                              ║
  ╚══════════════════════════════════════════════════════════════╝


                           Copyright, 1912,

                                  BY

                            HURST & COMPANY


                           MADE IN U. S. A.



                               CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                   PAGE

      I. “IN TEXAS DOWN ON THE RIO GRANDE”     5

     II. THE HUMBLING OF SHORTY               18

    III. AN ATTEMPT AT “GETTING EVEN”         28

     IV. WITH THE RANGERS                     37

      V. JACK’S CHANCE                        47

     VI. THE POOL OF DEATH                    57

    VII. A STRANGE VALLEY                     67

   VIII. NATURE’S PRISONERS                   77

     IX. A CLIMB FOR LIFE                     85

      X. A BATTLE IN MID–AIR                  95

     XI. RANGERS ON THE TRAIL                105

    XII. A BAFFLING PURSUIT                  115

   XIII. THE CAPTAIN’S STORY                 123

    XIV. RALPH’S HOUR OF DANGER              135

     XV. A “BLANK WALL”                      147

    XVI. LOST IN THE BURNING DESERT          159

   XVII. TWO MEN OF THE AIR                  170

  XVIII. THE SANDSTORM                       180

    XIX. THE BATTLE AT THE SCHOOLHOUSE       195

     XX. WHERE STRATEGY WON OUT              208

    XXI. THE STAGE HOLD–UP                   221

   XXII. OFF ON A MISSION                    231

  XXIII. THE HERMIT OF THE YUCCA             241

   XXIV. BY SHEER GRIT                       254

    XXV. THE GREAT STAMPEDE                  271



The Border Boys With the Texas Rangers



CHAPTER I.

“IN TEXAS DOWN ON THE RIO GRANDE.”


“Yip! Yip! Y–e–e–e–e–ow!”

“Gracious! What’s coming, a band of circus Indians?”

“Not knowing, can’t say; but there is evidently something to the fore
in the strenuous line.”

“Well, I should say so. Hark, what’s that?”

“Shooting; maybe some of those Mestizos from over the Rio Grande are
attacking the town.”

“Hardly likely. The last heard of them they were fifty miles from the
Border fighting hard with the Federals. But it’s something, all right.”

“Hullo! Look there. It’s—it’s the Rangers!”

The red–headed, sun–burned last speaker reined in his impetuous,
plunging, gray broncho and, shielding his eyes with his hand, gazed
down the dusty main street of San Mercedes. Above the trio of lads who
had halted their cayuses at the sudden sound of distant uproar, the sun
hung in the steely blue sky like a red hot copper ball. Jack Merrill,
alert and good–looking, with his frank, bronzed face and easy seat in
the saddle, followed the direction of red–headed Walt Phelps’ gaze.
Ralph Stetson, equally excited, studied the situation with equivalent
interest.

And now at the end of the street, which had suddenly become thronged
as if by magic with slouching Mexicans, blue–bloused Chinese and
swinging–gaited cow–punchers with jingling spurs on their high–heeled
boots, a novel procession swept into view.

Out of a cloud of yellow dust, which hung like a saffron curtain
against the burning cobalt of the sky, appeared the foremost of a group
of riders.

“Here they come! Look out, fellows! Let’s sidetrack ourselves and let
the Texas limited go by!”

As he shouted this advice Ralph Stetson, a lad of slightly more
delicate build than his youthful companions, swung his wiry little pony
in a pivotal sweep, and made as if to retreat.

“Hurry, boys!” he shouted.

But Jack Merrill stood his ground, and Walt Phelps, seeing that the
leader of the three Border Boys did not swerve in the face of the
onrush, did not budge an inch either. But on the street excitement was
rife. Cayuses, hitched to the long, strong hitching racks, or simply
left to stand with the reins dropped to the ground over their heads,
plunged and squealed. Men ran about and shouted, and even the usually
stolid Chinese restaurant keepers and laundry men seemed stirred
out of their habitual state of supreme unconcern. As for the Mexican
residents of San Mercedes, they merely drew their serapes closer about
them and from beneath their broad brimmed, cone–crowned sombreros
gazed with a haughty indifference at the group of galloping, shouting
horsemen.

As Ralph Stetson cantered off, Jack Merrill backed his pony up to the
very edge of the raised wooden sidewalk. The little animal was wildly
excited and plunged and whinnied as if it felt the bit and saddle for
the first time. But Jack maintained his easy, graceful seat as if he
had formed part of the lively little creature he bestrode. Walt Phelps,
also undisturbed, controlled his equally restive mount.

“Why don’t we cut and run, too, Jack?” asked Walt, as the hind feet of
their ponies rattled on the wooden walk. “Those fellows are taking up
the whole street. They’ll run us down.”

“Inasmuch as they are just the men that we are here to meet,” responded
Jack, “I propose to stand my ground.”

The Border Boys had arrived in San Mercedes that morning, having ridden
from El Chico, the nearest town on the Southern Pacific Railroad. They
had come almost directly from a short rest following their exciting
adventures across the Mexican Border, as related in “The Border Boys
With the Mexican Rangers.” In this book, it will be recalled, they had
aided the picturesque mounted police of Mexico in running down a band
of desperadoes headed by Black Ramon, a famous Border character.

We first met the boys in the initial book of this series, “The Border
Boys on the Trail.” This volume set forth how Jack Merrill, the son of
an Arizona rancher, and Ralph Stetson, the rather delicate son of an
Eastern Railroad magnate and an old school chum, had shared with Walt
Phelps, a cattleman’s son, some astonishing adventures, including much
trouble with the hard characters who formed the nucleus of a band of
cattle rustlers. They assisted in putting them to rout, but not before
they had encountered many stirring adventures in a ruined mission
church in Chihuahua used as a gathering place by the band. The treasure
they discovered secreted in the catacombs under the ruined edifice had
given each boy a substantial little nest egg of his own.

In “The Border Boys Across the Frontier” they were found aiding
Uncle Sam. They happened to find a strange subterranean river by
means of which arms and ammunition were being smuggled to Mexican
revolutionists. In trying to put a stop to that work they were
captured, and escaped only after a ride on a borrowed locomotive and a
fight in the stockade of the Esmeralda mine.

We now find them in San Mercedes awaiting the arrival of the Texas
Rangers, a detachment of whom had been ordered to the little
settlement on the banks of the Rio Grande Del Norte to put down any
disturbances, and to keep the warring Mexicans from committing outrages
on Uncle Sam’s soil. The boys, always anxious for anything that might
offer in the way of adventure, had begged their fathers to allow them
to see something of the work of the Rangers. At first this had been
absolutely refused. But finally Mr. Stetson gave his permission, and
then Mr. Merrill fell in line, as did Walt Phelps’ parents. Captain
Moseby Atkinson of the Rangers being an old friend of Mr. Merrill’s,
the rest was easy, and it had been arranged that the boys were to meet
Captain Atkinson at San Mercedes. Though they looked only for fun
and novel experiences, the Border Boys were destined, while with the
Rangers, to pass through adventures more thrilling, and hardships more
severe than they dreamed.

On dashed the Rangers, the hoofs of their mounts thundering like
artillery. It was a sight calculated to stir the heart and quicken the
pulse of any wholesome, active lad. There were fully twenty of them,
riding six abreast. Their sombreros, blue shirts, rough leather chaps
and the rifles slung in each man’s saddle holster, showed them to be
men of action in the acutest sense of that word; men whose bronzed
faces and keen, steady eyes bespoke them of the best type of plainsman;
worthy descendants of Fremont, Lewis and Clarke.

“Yip! Yip!” the foremost of the riders shouted as they saw the boys.

Jack’s fiery little pony began to show signs of frantic alarm. It
bucked and tried to throw itself backward, but each time the young
horseman’s skill checked it.

“Captain! Captain!” called Jack, as the Rangers swept by.

But above the thunder of hoofs, and in the midst of the yellow dust
clouds, Captain Atkinson did not hear nor see the two boys.

But one of his men, a rather squat, dark–skinned, dark–haired little
fellow, did.

“Y—e—ow! Out of the way, you tenderfoot kid!” he exploded.

“I’m trying to get out of the way,” responded Jack good humoredly.

“What’s that, you long–legged cayuse,” bellowed the little chap, whose
sleeves were tied round above the elbows with gorgeous pink ribbons,
and whose black silk shirt was embroidered with pink rosebuds, “what’s
that? Can you ride, kid? Can you ride?”

At the same instant Jack’s pony swung around, presenting its flank
toward the little Ranger. As it did so the Texan brought down his quirt
with all its force on the startled little creature’s rump.

“Wow! now for fireworks!” he shouted, while his comrades checked their
ponies to see the fun.

Jack said nothing. In truth, he had his hands full. Excited before,
his pony was now half mad with frenzy. It bucked as if its insides
had been made of steel springs. But Jack stuck to it like a burr to a
maverick’s tail.

“Wow! Wow!” shouted the Rangers, as the pony gathered its feet
together, sprung into the air, and came down with legs as stiff as
hitching posts.

“Stick to him, kid! Don’t go to leather!” (meaning, “grab hold of
the saddle”), encouraged some of the Rangers struck by Jack’s manful
riding. But the dark–skinned little chap seemed to wish nothing more
than to see the youthful leader of the Border Boys ignominiously
toppled into the dust. He spurred his pony alongside Jack’s and whacked
it again and again with his rawhide quirt.

“That’s enough!” shouted Jack. “Stop it!”

“You’re scared!” jeered the Ranger. “Mammy’s little pet!”

The taunt had hardly left his lips before something very unexpected
happened. Jack, for a flash, managed to secure control of his pony.
He swung it round on its hind legs and rode it right at the scornful,
jeering Ranger. As he did so the other leaned out of his saddle to give
Jack’s pony another blow with the quirt as it dashed by him. But he
miscalculated. Jack drove his pony right in alongside his tormentor’s,
and the shock of the collision, added to the position the Ranger now
occupied in the saddle—leaning far over—proved too much for his
equilibrium.

His animal plunged, as if shot from a catapult, halfway across the
street from Jack’s pony. As it did so its rider made a vain attempt to
save himself by grabbing its withers. But quick as he was he could not
regain his balance.

Off he shot, landing in the street and ploughing a furrow with his face
in the soft dust. As for the pony, it dashed off, while a dozen Rangers
pursued it, yelling and swinging lariats.

Those who remained set up a yell of delight. It tickled the fancy of
these free and easy sons of the plains to see their companion unhorsed
by a slip of a boy.

“Good for you, kid!” shouted some.

“Say, Shorty,” admonished others, “why don’t you pick a fellow your own
size?”

In the meantime “Shorty,” as he had been addressed, scrambled to
his feet. He was a sorry object. His elaborate black silk shirt was
torn and dust covered, and one of his carefully tied ribbons was
missing. His sombrero lay six feet away, and his black hair fell in a
tangle over his dark forehead. As he got to his legs again, crowning
humiliation of all, a Chinaman picked up his broad–brimmed hat and
tendered it to him. Shorty aimed a blow and a curse at the well–meaning
Mongolian, who quickly dodged.

With a roar of rage he rushed at Jack. Then Jack and the others saw
what they had not noticed before.

In his fall Shorty’s revolver had fallen from its holster into the
dust. But he had recovered it, and now, with his lips set viciously,
he was rushing at Jack, the weapon poised for a shot.

“You dern young coyote, I’ll do fer you!” he shouted hoarsely, beside
himself with fury, intensified by the taunts of his companions over his
downfall.

As if in a trance Jack saw the revolver raised above the fellow’s head,
and then brought down to the firing position.



CHAPTER II.

THE HUMBLING OF SHORTY.


But at the very instant that the Ranger’s finger pressed the trigger
something came swishing and snaking through the air, falling in a loop
about him and pinioning his arms. The gun cracked as Shorty was yanked
from his feet, but the bullet merely ploughed a little furrow in the
ground. The next minute he was rolling in the dust for the second time,
roped as neatly as ever he had lassoed a yearling, by the rawhide of
Captain Atkinson himself.

The captain, who had been in advance, as we know, had not witnessed the
first part of the drama which had so nearly ended in a tragedy, but had
been apprised of it when Shorty’s pinto pony had flashed by him with
half a dozen shouting Rangers at its heels. The minute it had been
roped he instituted inquiries, and hearing what had occurred, he judged
from his acquaintance with Shorty’s character that his presence might
be needed at the scene of the Ranger’s unhorsing.

At top speed he had galloped back, arriving just in time to see
Shorty’s revolver flash in the air as he brought it down for a shot.
Almost as by magic the captain’s hand had sought and found his lariat
and sent its coil swishing through the air.

“Get up!” he thundered to the disgruntled Shorty, who, thoroughly
humiliated, did as he was told.

“Let me alone! Let me git at that cub!” he snarled, under his breath.

“See here, Shorty Swift!” flashed Atkinson, “this isn’t the first
trouble I’ve had with you. You’re a disgrace to the Rangers.”

“He was pickin’ on me,” began the Ranger; but his commander cut him
short with a sharp word.

“Buncombe! Is this the way you obey orders to conduct yourself
properly? Do you mean to tell me that you can give me any good reason
why a kid like that should annoy a Texas ranger?”

“Well, he did. It was his fault. He—he———”

“See here, Shorty, are you going to tell the truth?”

“I am telling the truth, cap.”

“You’re not. Some of you other boys tell me what happened.”

One of the Rangers who had applauded Jack’s horsemanship gave a plain,
unvarnished account of the whole scene. Captain Atkinson’s brow
darkened as he heard.

“So,” he snapped, “that’s the sort of fellow you are. Well, all I’ve
got to say is that you and your kind are a disgrace to the name of
Texas. I’ve warned you before, Shorty, of what you might expect if
you got into disgrace again. That was the last time. Now I find you
bullyin’ a kid who hadn’t done you any harm, and when he gave you what
you deserved you tried to shoot him. I’ve only got one thing to say to
you————”

He paused.

There was a vibrant silence, during which the trampling of the restless
ponies’ hoofs and the hard breathing of Shorty were the only sounds to
break the stillness.

“Git!”

The order came like the crack of a rifle.

Shorty seemed to wither and grow smaller and darker as he heard.

“Captain, I————” he stammered out. But Atkinson cut him short abruptly.

“You heard me. Git! This isn’t a cow camp, but a regularly organized
troop to enforce law and order. You set a fine example of lawlessness
right in the town we have been sent to protect from that very thing.
There’s your pony and here’s the pay that’s coming to you. Hit the
trail, and hit it quick.”

“Don’t be too hard on him, captain. Give him one more chance. I guess
it was only meant as horse play and not viciousness.”

Captain Atkinson turned his bronzed countenance on the speaker. It was
Jack. Beside him Walt Phelps had reined up and Ralph Stetson, too, the
latter having been attracted by the excitement from the side street
where he had sought refuge at the boisterous entrance of the Rangers.

“Oh, it’s you, is it?” he said. “Well, young chap, you’ve got nerve and
sense; but this fellow doesn’t deserve any pity.”

“I’m sure he won’t do it again,” Jack assured the captain; “let him off
this time. He’s been punished enough.”

At this Captain Atkinson could not resist a smile. Shorty’s woebegone
appearance assuredly bore testimony to the truth of Jack’s statement.

As for the Rangers, some of them broke into an open guffaw of amusement.

“You’re sure right, young chap,” agreed Captain Atkinson, “but right
now I’d like to ask you who you and your two friends are. You don’t
look as if you belonged about here.”

“We don’t. My name is Jack Merrill, this is Walt Phelps and yonder is
Ralph Stetson, a school chum and————”

“Waal, by the Lone Star! So you’re the kids I’m to take along, eh?
Shake, boy, shake! I thought you were a lot of blithering tenderfeet,
but you’re regular punchers. Put it there, Jack. I’m Captain Atkinson,
your father’s friend, and————”

“I guessed as much,” smiled Jack, shaking hands with the grizzled
leader of the Rangers who, in turn, almost wrung the lad’s fingers off.
“It’s for the sake of your friendship, captain, that I ask you to give
this man another chance.”

“Boy, you’re a real sport. Shorty, apologize to this lad here and take
your place in the ranks.”

“I—I’m sorry,” muttered Shorty, hanging his head sullenly and forcing
the words from unwilling lips.

“That’s all right, Shorty,” said Jack heartily, “and I’m as sorry as
you are. I didn’t mean to give you such a bump.”

Shorty took the outstretched hand with limp fingers, barely touched it,
and then, remounting his pony, which had been led up, rode off to the
rear of his comrades. His face was contorted with humiliation and angry
shame.

“I hope you won’t judge the Rangers by that fellow,” said Captain
Atkinson to Jack when Shorty had gone; “we may appear rough but our
hearts are in the right place, as I hope we shall prove to you.”

“I’m sure of it,” rejoined Jack heartily. “Are we going to camp far
from the town?” he asked, by way of changing the subject.

“Yes, in the outskirts, on the banks of the river. Alameda and his men
are giving the Federal troops a hard tussle, and we want to be on the
job if they try to cross.”

“Then you won’t be in one place?”

Captain Atkinson laughed.

“No; we Rangers are supposed to be like the Irish bird that flew in two
places at the same time,” he said.

Then, in a more serious tone, he went on:

“We have twenty–five miles of the Rio Grande to patrol and see that the
life and property of Americans along the Border are protected. It is
also our duty to keep the revolutionists or Federals from getting into
American territory or receiving supplies.”

“We had some experience in that line when we were in Northern
Chihuahua,” responded Jack.

“So I have heard. That is one reason I consented to have you along.
Raw tenderfoots would be out of place on a job of this kind. But now
we must be pushing on. I want to get into camp and map out my plan of
campaign before night.”

In a few minutes the column was reformed, and the Rangers, at an easy
pace, were riding out of the town toward the river. The three boys rode
together.

“Well, Jack,” remarked Ralph Stetson, as soon as they found themselves
alone, “you’ve made a nice mess of it.”

“How’s that?” inquired Jack unsuspiciously.

“Getting in a muss with that Ranger. From the look he gave you as he
went away I could see he bore you no great affection.”

“Well, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it,” declared Jack.

“I should think not,” chimed in Walt Phelps, “you only did what you
were compelled to do. My dad says, ‘Don’t go looking for trouble and
always avoid it if you can; but if you have it forced on you, why then
make the other fellow remember it.’”

“Don’t worry about that Shorty not remembering it,” admonished Ralph
seriously; “he’s not of the forgetting kind.”

And Ralph was right—Shorty wasn’t, as we shall see before long.



CHAPTER III.

AN ATTEMPT AT “GETTING EVEN.”


The Rangers, still overshadowed by that pall of yellow dust that seemed
inseparable from them, and almost as much a part of themselves as
their horses or accouterments, dashed gallantly out of the town and
across the rather dreary expanse of mesquite and thorny cactus that lay
between San Mercedes and the Rio Grande. On the brink of the stream,
which at that point flowed between steep bluffs of a reddish hue, they
drew rein.

The boys peered curiously over the bluff on the edge of which they
had halted. They saw a shallow, slowly flowing stream obstructed with
sand bars and shallows. On its banks grew scanty patches of brush
and dull–colored, stunted trees; but the scene was a dreary, almost
melancholy one.

“So this is the Rio Grande!” exclaimed Ralph, in a disappointed voice,
“I always thought of it as a noble river dashing along between steep
banks and————”

“Gracious, you talk like Sir Walter Scott,” grinned Jack; “the Rio
Grande at this time of the year, so I’ve been told, is always like
this.”

“Why, it’s not much more than a mud puddle,” complained Walt Phelps.

“I’m not so sure about that, young men,” put in Captain Atkinson,
who had overheard their conversation, “at certain times in the early
spring, or winter you’d call it back east, or when there is a cloud
burst, the old Rio can be as angry as the best of them.”

“What’s a cloud burst?” asked Ralph curiously. “I’ve read of them but I
never knew just what they were.”

“Well, for a scientific explanation you’ll have to ask somebody wiser
than me,” laughed Captain Atkinson, “but for an everyday explanation,
a cloud burst occurs when clouds, full of moisture, come in contact
with mountain tops warmer than the clouds themselves. This causes the
clouds to melt all at once—precipitation, I believe the weather sharps
call it—and then if you are in this part of the country, look out for
squalls along the river.”

“But I don’t quite understand,” remarked Walt. “I guess I’m dense or
something. I mean there are no mountains here.”

“No; but up among the sources of the Rio there are,” explained the
leader of the Rangers, “and a cloud burst even many hundred miles away
means a sudden tidal wave along this part of the Rio.”

“Well, it certainly looks as if it could stand quite a lot more water
without being particularly dangerous,” commented Jack.

At this point of the conversation Captain Atkinson gave a quick look
around as the rumble of approaching wheels was heard.

“Here comes the chuck–wagon, I guess,” he said; “you boys will have to
excuse me while I ride off to tell them where to make a pitch.”

“Yes; I suppose a chuck wagon naturally would make a pitch,” grinned
Ralph, as Captain Atkinson clattered off.

“The kind of pitch he means is a location,” rejoined Walt Phelps.
“Look, boys! there she comes. Well, that means that we don’t starve,
anyhow.”

The others followed the direction of Walt’s gaze and saw a big
lumbering vehicle drawn by eight mules approaching across the mesquite
plain. It was roofed with canvas, and through this roof stuck a rusty
iron stove pipe. From this blue smoke was pouring in a cloud.

“Talk about a prairie schooner. I guess that’s a prairie steamer. Look
at her smoke–stack,” cried Ralph.

“Yes; and look at the captain,” laughed Jack, pointing to the yellow
face and flying queue of a Chinaman, which were at this moment
projected from the back of the wagon.

“That’s the cook,” said Walt Phelps, “I guess he’s been getting supper
ready as they came along.”

A loud cheer went up from the Rangers as their traveling dining–room
came into sight.

“Hello, old Sawed Off, how’s chuck?” yelled one Ranger at the grinning
Chinaman.

“Hey, there! What’s the news from the Chinese Republic?” shouted
another.

“Me no Chinese ‘public. Me Chinese Democlat!” bawled the yellow man,
waving an iron spoon and vanishing into the interior of his wheeled
domain.

“They call him Sawed Off because his name is Tuo Long,” chuckled
Captain Atkinson, when he had directed the driver of the cook wagon
where to draw up and unharness his mules, “but he’s a mighty good
cook—none better, in fact. He’s only got one failing, if you can call
it such, and that is his dislike of the new Chinese Republic. If you
want to get him excited you’ve only to start him on that.”

“I don’t much believe in getting cooks angry,” announced Walt Phelps,
whose appetite was always a source of merriment with the Border Boys.

“Nor I. But come along and get acquainted with the boys. By–the–way,
you brought blankets and slickers as I wrote you?”

“Oh, yes, and canteens, too. In fact, I guess we are all prepared to be
regular Rangers,” smiled Jack.

By this time the camp was a scene of picturesque bustle. Ponies had
been unsaddled and tethered, and presently another wagon, loaded with
baled hay in a great yellow stack, came rumbling up. The Rangers, who
had by this time selected their sleeping places and bestowed their
saddles, at once set about giving their active little mounts their
suppers.

First, each man mounted on his pony barebacked and rode it down to the
river to get a drink of water. To do this they had to ride some little
distance, as the bluffs at that point were steep and no path offered.
At last, however, a trail was found, and in single file down they went
to the watering place.

The boys followed the rest along the steep path, Jack coming last of
the trio. The trail lay along the edge of the bluff, and at some places
was not much wider than a man’s hand. Jack had reached the worst part
of it, where a drop of some hundred feet lay below him, when he was
astonished to hear the sound of hoofs behind him.

He was astonished because, he had judged, almost everybody in the
camp had preceded him while he had been busy inspecting the different
arrangements. He faced round abruptly in his saddle and saw that the
rider behind him was Shorty.

It must have been at almost the same moment that, for some unknown
reason, Shorty’s horse began to plunge and kick. Then it dashed
forward, bearing down directly on Jack.

“Look out!” shouted Jack, “there’s only room for one on the trail.
You’ll knock me off!”

“I can’t pull him in! I can’t pull him in!” yelled Shorty, making what
appeared to be frantic efforts to pull in his pony. At the same time he
kept the cayuse to the inside of the trail.

Jack saw that unless he did something, and quickly, too, his pony was
likely to become unmanageable and plunge off the narrow path. But there
was small choice of remedies. Already Shorty’s horse, which was coming
as if maddened by something, was dashing down on him. Jack resolved to
take a desperate chance. The others had by this time almost reached
the bottom of the trail. As fast as he dared he compelled his pony to
gallop down the steep incline. It was a dangerous thing to do, for the
trail was too narrow to afford any foothold at more than a slow and
careful walk.

Behind him, yelling like one possessed, came Shorty. Jack urged his
mount faster.

“Goodness! I hope we get to the bottom safely!” he gasped out.

The words had hardly left his lips when he felt his pony’s hoofs slip
from under him.

The next instant, amid a horrified shout from the men below, Jack and
the pony went rolling and plunging off the trail down toward the river.

The last sound Jack heard was Shorty’s loud:

“Yip! yip! Ye–o–o–ow!”



CHAPTER IV.

WITH THE RANGERS.


From below, where Jack’s companions had witnessed his fall with
horrified eyes, it appeared almost impossible that he could escape
without serious injury. But as his pony struck the ground at the foot
of the cliff, amidst a regular landslide of twigs, rocks and earth,
Jack succeeded in extricating himself from under the animal, and
rolling a few yards he scrambled to his feet, unhurt except for a few
slight cuts and bruises.

Ralph and Walt Phelps left their ponies and came running up to where
Jack stood brushing the dirt from his garments.

“Hurt, Jack?” cried Ralph.

“No; never touched me,” laughed the boy; “and look at that cayuse of
mine, I guess he isn’t injured, either.”

As Jack spoke he nodded his head in the direction of his pony, which
had risen and was now galloping off to join its companions at the
watering place.

“How did it happen?” demanded Walt. “We saw you coming down the trail
quietly enough one moment, and at the next look, behold, you were
riding like Tam o’ Shanter.”

Jack looked about him before replying. But he and his companions were
alone, for the Rangers were too busy watering their mounts to bother
with the boys once it had been seen that Jack was not hurt.

“I guess you were right when you said that Shorty had it in for me,” he
remarked, turning to Walt Phelps.

“How do you mean?”

“Just this: Shorty was behind me on that trail. Suddenly his pony began
to bolt. It was to avoid being forced from the narrow path that I
spurred up my cayuse so as to keep ahead of him.”

“What do you think he meant to do?”

The question came from Ralph.

“It’s my opinion that he deliberately tried to get between me and the
wall of the cliff and force me off the trail.”

“Gracious! You might have been killed.”

“Not much doubt that I’d have been badly injured, anyway. But Shorty
miscalculated, and where I left the trail was further on and not so far
to fall.”

“Why don’t you tell Captain Atkinson?”

“Why, I have nothing to prove that Shorty’s pony really didn’t get
beyond his control.”

“Then you suspect that it was not really running away, but that he made
it appear that he was unable to manage it?”

“That’s it exactly. However, let’s join the men. If I get a chance I
want to examine Shorty’s horse.”

“What’s the idea in that?” asked Walt.

“You’ll see what my plan is if I get an opportunity to put it into
execution,” was the reply.

The three boys, arm in arm, sauntered up to the group of Rangers. Some
of them were now remounted, and two men had charge of the boys’ ponies,
including Jack’s, which had joined its comrades. Shorty was still
watering his animal, but when he saw the boys he came up to Jack with
an outstretched hand, and every appearance of great affability.

“Say, Pard’ner,” he exclaimed, as if genuinely remorseful, “I hope you
ain’t mad with me on ’count of that accident.”

“No; I never harbor a grudge,” responded Jack, with emphasis.

“That critter of mine jes’ nat’ly ran away from me,” pursued Shorty, in
the same tone.

“And so that’s the reason you had to spur him till he bled,” flashed
Jack, in a low tone. The boy had seized his opportunity to look over
Shorty’s pony and saw at once that it had been cruelly rowelled.

Shorty went pale under his tan. His mouth twitched nervously.

“Why—why, you ain’t goin’ for to say I done it a–purpose?” he demanded.

“I’m not saying anything about it,” responded Jack; “all that I know is
this, that I shall take care how I ride in front of you again.”

So saying the boy turned on his heel and walked toward his pony,
followed by Walt and Ralph, who had witnessed the whole scene. Shorty
gazed after them. His alarm had gone from his countenance now, and he
bore an expression of malignant rage.

“Dern young tenderfoot cubs,” he growled to himself, relieving his
feelings by giving his pony a kick in the stomach, “blamed interferin’
Mammy boys! I’ll l’arn ‘em a lesson yet. I’ll jes’ bet I will, and
it’ll be a hot one, too. One they won’t forget in a hurry.”

But of Shorty’s fury the boys were ignorant, for they quickly mounted
and clattered back up the trail with the rest of the Rangers. On
their return to the camp, as soon as each little pony had been given
his generous allowance of hay, they found that supper was ready, the
Chinaman announcing the fact by beating on a tin dishpan and shouting:

“Come getee! Come getee!”

None of the Rangers needed any second invitation; nor did the boys
need any pressing to make hearty meals. Bacon, salted beef, beans, hot
biscuits and strong coffee formed the bill of fare. After the meal had
been dispatched Captain Atkinson beckoned to Jack and his companions,
and they followed him a little apart from the rest of the Rangers who
were singing songs and telling stories around a big camp fire, for the
night was quite chilly.

“Since you lads have joined us to learn all you can of the life of a
Texas Ranger,” he said, “I think that you had better start in as soon
as possible.”

“Right away if necessary,” responded Jack enthusiastically.

“That’s my idea,” struck in Walt Phelps.

“Can’t make it too soon for me, captain,” added Ralph, not a whit less
eager than the others.

“Very well, then,” smiled the captain of the Rangers, “you will go on
sentry duty to–night, and to–morrow I shall see that you have some
other work assigned to you.”

“Do we—do we have to do sentry duty all night?” asked Ralph, in a
rather dubious tone.

“No, indeed. That would never do. You must get your sleep. For that
reason we divide the hours of darkness into regular watches. There are
four of these. I shall assign you to go out with the first guard,” said
Captain Atkinson to Jack, and then in turn he informed Walt Phelps and
Ralph Stetson that their assignments would come with the second and
third watches respectively.

Jack was all eagerness to begin, and when at eight o’clock he and six
of the Rangers rode out of the camp toward the river his heart throbbed
with anticipation of the duty before him. The men were in charge of one
of their number named “Baldy” Sears. This Baldy was quite a character
and had determined to give Jack a thorough testing out. As they rode
out, the boy questioned “Baldy” eagerly about his duties, but didn’t
get much satisfaction.

As a matter of fact, Baldy entertained quite a contempt for
“Tenderfeet,” as he called the boys, and was rather annoyed at having
to take Jack out and act as “school marm,” as he phrased it.

They reached the river by the same trail that they had descended to
water their ponies earlier that evening. As it was still dusk they
rode down it without accident. In fact, the Rangers hardly appeared to
notice its dangers. Jack, however, wondered how it would be possible
to descend it in the dark without mishap. But, then, he recollected
the sure–footedness and uncommon intelligence of the average western
pony, and realized that if given a loose rein, there probably was not a
cayuse in the outfit that could not negotiate it without difficulty.

“Now, then,” said Baldy, when they reached the bottom of the path,
“line up and I’ll give you your orders. You, Red Saunders, ride east
with Sam, and Ed. Ricky, you and Big Foot ride to the west and keep
patrolling. I’ll take the young maverick here with me. If any of you
gets in trouble or wants assistance fire three shots. I reckon that’s
all.”

The men rode off into the night, and then Baldy and Jack were left
alone.

“Got a shootin’ iron with you, young feller?” inquired Baldy.

“A what?” returned Jack.

“Waal, if you ain’t the tenderfootedest of tenderfeets,” scoffed Baldy;
“a shootin’ iron—a gun!”

“Why, no, I didn’t think it necessary to bring one,” rejoined Jack. “I
don’t like carrying firearms unless they are needful. Do you think that
anything will happen in which firearms would be useful?”

“Firearms is always useful along the Rio,” returned Baldy, “I dunno if
the cap told you, but we’re here on special duty to–night.”

“Dangerous duty?” asked Jack.

“You can’t most gen’ally sometimes allers tell,” vouchsafed Baldy,
examining the magazine of his rifle which he had taken from its saddle
holster for the purpose.



CHAPTER V.

JACK’S CHANCE.


“You mean that there is a chance of our being attacked?”

Jack put the question in rather an anxious tone. But for some reason
Baldy only grunted in reply.

“I’m going back to camp to git you a gun,” he said; “you stay right
here till I get back.”

“Very well, Mr. Baldy,” rejoined the boy, in as conciliatory a tone as
possible.

“Don’t mister me. I ain’t got no handle to my name and don’t never
expect to have,” grunted Baldy, as he swung his pony and rode off.

As Jack listened to the retreating hoof beats he felt strangely lonely.
It was very dark down in the cañon, and the steely blue stars seemed
very far away. Only the rushing of the water of the river disturbed
the boy’s thoughts while he awaited Baldy’s return.

“He’s not very lively company,” he admitted to himself, “but it’s
better than being all alone. Wish Ralph or Walt had been ordered to
share my watch.”

But the next moment he was scolding himself.

“For shame, Jack Merrill,” he said, “here’s the first bit of duty
you’ve been put to, and here you are complaining already. It’s got to
stop right here and now, and—hello, what was that?”

The boy broke off short, as through the darkness of the cañon he caught
an odd sound from the river.

“What can that sound be?” he said to himself. “It seems familiar, too.
Where have I heard something like it before?”

Then all of a sudden it dawned upon him what the odd noise was.

It was the splash of oars. But what could a boat be doing on the river
at that time of night, and in such a place? Jack was asking himself
these questions when he became aware of some words being spoken at a
short distance from him. He recognized the language instantly. The men
who were conversing were talking in Spanish, of which tongue Jack had a
fair working knowledge, as we know.

He was in the darker shadow of the cañon wall and therefore, of course,
quite invisible to whoever was on the river, and who had apparently
come to a stop almost opposite to his station. He quickly slipped from
his pony, and taking advantage of the brush that grew almost to the
water’s edge, he crawled along on his stomach in the direction of the
unseen men.

At last he gained a position where he could hear them quite distinctly,
and could even see their figures bulking up blackly in the general
gloom. But what they were doing he could not imagine, and when he
finally did find out he received the surprise of his life.

Listening to their talk, Jack heard them speaking of Rosario, the
leader of the insurgents in that quarter of the Mexican Republic, and
apparently they were discussing some mission on which they had been
dispatched.

He heard the Rangers mentioned, and then came some information that was
new to him. The Federal troops of Mexico were hot on the heels of the
insurgent army, and the rebels were planning to bring the coming battle
on to American soil if possible, in order to force the interference of
Uncle Sam.

Evidently the men knew of the presence of the Rangers in the locality,
and, by listening, Jack soon learned that they were there acting as
spies in order to find out how strongly the Border was guarded at that
point. Finally they strode off cautiously into the darkness, apparently
with the object of reconnoitering the vicinity.

This was Jack’s chance. Without a moment’s hesitation he made his way
to the river bank and found that a large raft had been moored there. It
was evidently on this that the spies had made their way down the stream
from some point above. The raft was formed roughly of tree trunks, but
appeared to be of stout construction. Some long oars for navigating it
lay on the logs; but Jack, in his hasty search, could not see anything
on board that might be of interest to Captain Atkinson.

He had just completed his examination and was preparing to go back on
shore when something happened that changed his plans. As if by magic
the figures of the men who had left the raft reappeared at the water’s
edge.

At the same instant that Jack spied them the men became aware of the
intruder on their raft. They did not dare to fire the weapons they
carried, owing to the nearness of the Rangers; otherwise they would
undoubtedly have done so. Instead, they made a simultaneous leap at
Jack, the leader aiming a savage blow at him.

The boy dodged the man’s swing, springing backward on the raft. The
contrivance had not been securely fastened to the bank. In fact, it
had merely been tied carelessly up at the water’s edge. Jack’s sudden
spring gave the raft a violent jolt. The current caught it and whirled
it round as the strain came upon one side of it.

Before either Jack or the Mexicans exactly realized what had occurred,
the raft was swept out into midstream, the current hurrying it along
swiftly.

But Jack was not alone on the swaying, pitching craft. The Mexican who
had aimed the blow at him had had one foot on the raft when Jack’s
backward spring caused it to drift from the bank. By a desperate effort
he had managed to maintain a foothold, and now he was crouching back
on his haunches like a wild–cat about to spring, while in his hands
gleamed a wicked looking knife.

Jack had just time to see this when the fellow, hissing out a torrent
of Spanish oaths, sprang at him. Jack dodged the knife blow, and before
the Mexican could recover his equilibrium the boy’s fist had collided
with the lower part of the Mexican’s jaw.

The blow was a heavy one, and had landed fair and square. With a grunt
of pain and rage the fellow reeled backward, almost pitching off the
raft. But in a jiffy he recovered from his shock and rushed at Jack,
snarling like a wild beast.

The boy realized that he was in for a fight for life, and in that
moment he bitterly regretted the curiosity that had caused him to board
the raft, although he had done it with the idea of performing a service
for the Rangers. Now, however, he found himself facing a desperate
situation.

Unarmed, and alone, he was on a drifting raft with an armed and
singularly ferocious foe.

“Yankee pig!” snarled out the Mexican, as he flung himself at the boy.

Jack’s blood boiled at the insult. It acted as a brace to his sinking
heart. As the man lunged at him the boy’s hand struck up the arm that
held the knife and the weapon went spinning into the night. But the
Mexican, a large man of uncommon strength and activity, did not cease
his attack. He rushed at Jack as if to annihilate him.

This was just what Jack wanted. The angrier the Mexican was the worse
he would fight, as Jack knew. He met the onrush with coolness, and
succeeded in planting two good blows on the man’s body. But muscular as
Jack was the blows appeared to have little effect on the Mexican. He
tore in more savagely than ever.

Without his knife the Mexican was not much of a fighter. He knew
nothing of the art of boxing, and Jack’s “gym” training stood him in
good stead. At last, in one of the Mexican’s frantic rushes, Jack’s
fist met the point of his chin with deadly effect. With a wild swinging
of his arms the fellow reeled backward.

He would have fallen from the raft into the current had not Jack leaped
forward and saved him. But the Mexican was a formidable foe no longer.
Jack’s blow had effectually stunned him for a time, and as the boy
saved him from pitching overboard he sank in a heap on the floor of the
raft.

In the first opportunity he had had for observation of his situation
since the raft had got loose, Jack looked about him. Then, for the
first time, he realized that the rough craft was proceeding at an
extremely swift rate. It was spinning round dizzily, too, as though
caught in some sort of whirlpool.

Jack was still wondering how far they had come and what was to be
the outcome of this odd adventure, when something happened that
effectually put all other thoughts out of his head.

The air became filled with a roaring sound, and spray began to
dash upon the floor of the raft. With a sharp thrill of alarm Jack
recognized that the roaring sound was the voice of a waterfall, and
that the raft was being swept toward it at lightning speed. He seized
up one of the oars and attempted to head the raft for the shore. But
the oar might have been a straw for all the effect it had against that
rapid current.

All at once it snapped, almost hurling Jack overboard. The next instant
raft, boy and unconscious man were swept into a vortex of waters.
Jack felt himself falling through space. Simultaneously there came a
crashing blow on his head. A million constellations seemed to swim
before his eyes, and then, with a blinding flash of fire, his senses
left him.

[Illustration: THE NEXT INSTANT RAFT, BOY AND UNCONSCIOUS MAN WERE
SWEPT INTO A VORTEX OF WATERS.]



CHAPTER VI.

THE POOL OF DEATH.


The blow that had been dealt the boy came from one of the timbers
of the raft, which had been torn to pieces as it was swept over the
falls. How long Jack remained insensible he did not know; but when he
recovered his senses he found himself struggling in a seething pool of
water at the foot of the falls. Luckily he was able to catch hold of
one of the logs of the raft as it was swept by him, and clinging to
this he began to strike out with his legs, hoping to make his way to
the edge of the pool.

Many times during that desperate struggle for existence Jack felt
certain that death would intervene before he could accomplish his
purpose. Once another log, that was being swept round like a straw in
that boiling vortex of foaming waters, was dashed against the one to
which he clung. The shock almost forced the lad to relinquish his hold.
But he hung on like grim death.

Blinded by foam and half choked, the boy, with bull–dog grit, stuck to
his purpose, and at last was rewarded by feeling ground under his feet.
A moment later, bruised, breathless and drenched to the skin, he flung
himself panting on the sandy shore of the pool, too exhausted to move
further.

He lay there, actually feeling more dead than alive, for a long time
before he felt capable of moving. But at last he found strength to drag
himself further up the bank. Fumbling in his pocket, he found that his
water–tight match box was in its proper place, and in the darkness he
set about making preparations to build a fire. Luckily, on the brink of
the pool there was any quantity of dry wood cast up by the maelstrom
of waters, and the boy soon had a roaring blaze kindled. Stripping to
his underclothing he hung his other garments on sticks in front of the
blaze while he basked in its cheery rays.

By the glow he could see a part of the pool, and as he gazed at its
troublous surface and foaming fury he marveled that he had been able to
escape with his life. The firelight also showed him that he was in a
sort of rock–walled bowl, with steeply sloping sides scantily clad in
places with stunted bushes. He was still sitting by this fire, trying
to think of some way out of his dilemma, when exhausted nature asserted
herself and he sank into a deep slumber beside the warm blaze.

When he awoke the sun was shining down on his face. The daylight showed
him that he had blundered into an astonishing place indeed. As he had
guessed, by what he could see of the place by firelight, he was at the
bottom of a rocky bowl into which the falls over which he had tumbled
roared and thundered unceasingly as they had been doing for uncounted
centuries.

Jack estimated the height of the falls as being fully sixty feet. The
boiling pool appeared to be about an acre or so in extent, and was
furiously agitated by the constant pouring of the mighty falls. And now
Jack became aware of a curious thing.

All about the edges of the pool, where the circular motion of the water
had evidently cast them up, were myriads of bones. They appeared to
be the remains of cattle and various kinds of game; but some of them
caused Jack to shudder as he had a distinct notion that they were of
human origin.

All at once, while he was still exploring the strange place into which
he had fallen, he came across a bleached skull lying amid a pile of
bones and débris. The ghastly relic gave him a rude shock as he gazed
at it.

“Gracious!” the boy exclaimed, with a shudder, “this place might well
be called a Pool of Death. How fortunate I am to be alive; although
how I am going to get out of this scrape I don’t know. One thing is
certain, I cannot remount by the falls. I must see what lies in the
other direction.”

Up to that moment, so agitated had the castaway boy been that he had
almost entirely forgotten the Mexican with whom he had had the battle
on the raft. The thought of the man now suddenly recurred to him.
Jack sighed as he realized that the Mexican could hardly have been so
fortunate as he had been. In all probability he had forfeited his life
to the Pool of Death.

With such melancholy thoughts in his mind Jack set about exploring the
rocky basin for some means of exit. Although he was determined not to
give way to despair, the boy could not but own that his situation was
well–nigh desperate. He was many miles from his friends, and probably
in an uninhabited part of the country. He had no food; nor even if
there had been any game had he the means of shooting it.

His hunger was now beginning to make itself painfully manifest. On
some bushes that clung to the walls of the Pool of Death were some
bright–colored berries, but Jack dreaded to try them. For all he knew
they might be deadly poison.

Searching for an exit, Jack was not long in finding one. The pool was
drained by a narrow crevice in the rocky walls, forming a passage. On
the brink of the water was a strip of beach, not much wider than a
man’s hand. Beside this pathway the water roared and screamed in its
narrow bounds, but Jack knew that if he was to get out of this place at
all he must dare the rocky passage.

Stifling his fears as well as he could, the famished, bedraggled lad
struck pluckily out. Sometimes the passage grew so narrow that he
could have bestridden the stream. At other points it widened out and,
looking up, Jack could see the blue sky far overhead. In reality the
passage was not more than half a mile in length but, so carefully did
Jack have to proceed, it appeared to be four times that length at least.

The passage ended with almost startling abruptness. Jack could hardly
repress an exclamation of amazement as he saw upon what a strange scene
it opened. Beyond its mouth lay a broad valley, carpeted with vivid
green grass and dotted here and there, like a park, with groups of
trees. Viewed in the sparkling sunlight it was indeed a scene of rare
beauty and Jack’s heart gave a throb of delight as he beheld it.

“Surely,” he thought, “some rancher must live hereabouts who will give
me food and lend me a horse to ride back to San Mercedes.”

For the first few minutes following his discovery of the valley the
boy did not doubt but that he should find an easy and speedy means of
escaping from his difficulties. But it gradually began to dawn upon him
that the place upon which he had so oddly blundered was not inhabited
at all. At least, he could see no sign of a human habitation.

Then, too, somewhat to his dismay, he noticed another feature of the
valley which had at first escaped his attention altogether.

The place was completely enclosed by steep, lofty cliffs, and appeared
as if, at some early period of the world’s growth, it had been dropped
below the level of the surrounding country by some mighty convulsion of
nature.

For the rest the valley appeared to be about a mile in length and
half a mile wide at its broadest part. Through the center of it the
stream that issued from the passage beyond the Pool of Death meandered
leisurely along.

“Well,” exclaimed Jack, to himself, gazing somewhat disconsolately
about him, “this is a beautiful spot into which I have wandered; but
somehow it doesn’t appear to solve my difficulties. In the first place,
I don’t believe it is frequented by human beings, and in the second, so
far as I can see, there is no way out of it. I wonder where on earth I
can be? Certainly not on the Rio Grande itself. I begin to suspect that
that current hurled the raft off into some side stream which terminated
in the falls.”

It may be said here that Jack’s theory was correct. The valley in which
he found himself had been caused by a convulsion of nature similar to
that which effected the wonderful Yosemite Valley in California. It
was, in fact, a miniature reproduction of that famous scenic marvel.
As the boy likewise suspected, the raft had indeed been hurried by the
stream from the main current of the Rio Grande and drawn into a side
fork of the river.

Although Jack did not know it at the time, he was on Mexican soil and
far removed from his friends, as he paced the strange secret valley.

“I guess my best plan is to follow that stream,” mused Jack, after a
period of thought; “if I’m not mistaken there must be some way out of
the valley at the spot where it emerges. At any rate I’ll try it.”

He had walked some distance from the bank of the stream in his
explorations, and he now began to re–thread his footsteps. He directed
his course toward a big rock that towered up by the bank of the stream,
apparently dislodged at some remote time from the summit of the lofty
cliffs that hedged the place all about.

When Jack was within a few feet of the rock he was brought to a sudden
halt by a startling occurrence.

From behind the monster boulder a human figure emerged, and the next
instant Jack was being hailed by the sudden apparition.



CHAPTER VII.

A STRANGE VALLEY.


Had he beheld the emergence of a supposedly dead man from his tomb, the
boy could not have been much more startled. As it was the two cases
would have had much in common, for the figure that now advanced toward
him was that of a man he had given up for dead—namely, the Mexican who
had shared that wild voyage on the raft.

For an instant Jack instinctively threw himself into an attitude
of defense. But the next moment he saw that he had nothing to fear
from the newcomer. In fact, a more woebegone figure than the Mexican
presented it would be hard to imagine. There was a big gash over one of
his eyes, his clothing was torn to ribbons and he limped painfully as
he advanced toward Jack.

“How did you come here?” asked Jack in Spanish.

“Ah, señor, surely by a miracle of the saints,” was the reply, as the
man raised his eyes to heaven. “I recollect your blow and then nothing
more till I found myself cast up on the bank of yonder stream. Call it
what you will, I believe that it was a true miracle of Providence that
my life was saved.”

“We must both thank a higher power for our deliverance,” said Jack
reverently. “I never thought that I should see you alive again.”

“But who are you?” demanded the Mexican. “How came you on our raft
before it went adrift?”

Jack thought for a moment before replying, and then he decided that it
could do no possible harm, under the circumstances, to tell who he was.

“I am the son of an Arizona rancher,” he said. “My name is Jack
Merrill. With two companions I was accompanying the Texas Rangers on a
scouting trip for the sake of the experience. While on guard duty I saw
your raft land and thought it my duty to try to find out what you were
doing on the American side of the river.”

To Jack’s surprise the other showed no trace of anger. Instead he
appeared grief stricken.

“Alas, señor,” he said, “you may have been the cause of the death of
my two companions, for if the Texas Rangers captured them they will
assuredly shoot them.”

“I’m sure they would do no such thing,” rejoined Jack indignantly;
“they are not inhuman wretches. If your companions can show that they
were doing no harm on our side of the Border they will be released with
a warning not to spy upon Americans again.”

“Ah, then, you knew that we were spying, señor?”

“Yes, I overheard your conversation at the river’s edge. But it is
important now that we should get out of this valley as soon as
possible. Have you any idea where we are?”

The Mexican shrugged his shoulders dubiously.

“Alas, señor, I am not certain, but I am inclined to think that we are
in what is called the Lost Valley.”

“Lost Valley!” echoed Jack, struck by the dismal suggestion of the
name. “Is there no way out?”

His companion shook his head.

“The legend says that they who blunder into the valley never escape,”
he declared.

Jack could not repress a shudder as he thought of the skull by the
pool; but the next instant he regained his nerve, for he knew that the
stream must emerge from the valley somewhere.

“But surely this river has to find a way out of the valley?” he asked.

“Si, señor,” was the reply, “but the stream, so they say, burrows its
way through a tunnel by which no human being could hope to pass.”

“Then you mean that we are prisoners here?”

“Unless somebody discovers us—yes.”

“Are there many people dwelling in this part of the country?” inquired
Jack, with a sinking heart, for, despite his effort to keep up his
cheerfulness, his hope was fast ebbing.

“No, it is a wild section devoted to cattle raising, and only a few
wandering vaqueros ever come this way. It is from them that the news of
the Lost Valley, which this may be, reached the outer world.”

“But we must escape,” cried Jack wildly, “we can’t remain here. We have

no food, no means of getting any, and————”

“I have my revolver,” interrupted the Mexican, “also plenty of
cartridges. Perhaps we can find some game.”

This at least was a spark of cheering news. Both Jack and the Mexican
were almost famished and decided to set out at once to see if they
could bring down anything to serve as food. A revolver is not much of a
weapon to use in hunting; but the Mexican declared that he was highly
proficient with it. Jack hadn’t much confidence in his own ability as a
revolver shot, so it was agreed that his dark–skinned companion should
do the shooting.

They ranged the valley for some time without seeing a sign of life,
when suddenly, from a clump of trees, there sprang three deer—two does
and a buck.

Bang! went the revolver, and the buck slackened speed and staggered. A
crimson stream from his shoulder showed that he had been badly wounded.
But it took two more shots to bring him down. He was then dispatched
with Jack’s knife. No time was lost in cutting off some steaks from
the dead buck, a fire was speedily kindled and an appetizing aroma of
broiling venison came from it. The meat was cooked by being held over
the glowing wood coals on sticks of hard wood. Jack could hardly wait
till his was cooked to eat it.

Fresh deer meat is not the delicacy that some of my readers may
suppose. It is coarse, stringy and rather tasteless; but neither Jack
nor his companion were in a mood to be particular. They devoured the
meat ravenously, although they had no salt, bread or any other relish.
But the meat strengthened Jack wonderfully, and as soon as it had been
eaten he proposed that they should explore the valley thoroughly in an
attempt to find a way out.

The Mexican was nothing loath; but he was dubious about there being any
avenue of escape. However, with the stoical fatalism of his race he
appeared to accept the situation philosophically.

Before setting out on their expedition the deer meat was hung in one of
the trees as a protection in case any wild animals should get scent of
it. This done, the Border Boy and his oddly contrasted companion set
off, trudging around the valley in a determined effort to effect their
escape in some way.

Several cañons that opened off into the rocky walls were examined, but
they all proved to be “blind” and impassable. In exploring one of these
Jack had a thrilling adventure.

His foot slipped on a rock and he plunged into a deep hole among some
boulders. He was about to scramble out again, when from one of the rock
crevices a hideous flat head darted. At the same time a curious dry,
rattling sound was heard on every side of him. The boy recognized the
noise with a sharp thrill of alarm.

The sound was the vibration of the horny tails of dozens of
diamond–backed “rattlers,” into a den of which he had fallen. On every
side flat heads with evil–looking, leaden eyes were darting in and out
of the rocks. The boy was paralyzed with fear. He dared not move a hand
or foot lest he precipitate an attack by the loathsome creatures. As
soon as he recovered his wits he set up a shout for his Mexican friend,
who had told him that his name was Manuel Alvarez.

Alvarez was quickly on the spot. He took in the situation at a glance,
and cautioning Jack not to move, he fired his revolver down into the
den of noisome reptiles. The bullet passed so close to Jack’s head that
he could feel it fan the air. But, as the report of the pistol volleyed
and crashed among the rocks, every rattler vanished.

“Now come out quickly!” ordered Alvarez, reaching down a hand to Jack,
who took it and scrambled out of the pit of snakes.

As he thanked the Mexican for his promptness in acting, the boy could
not help thinking in what an extraordinary situation he was involved.

Lost in a hidden valley with, for companion, a man who, not more than
a few hours ago, had been bent on killing him, now it was to that man
that he owed his life.

“This is surely one of the strangest adventures in which I have ever
taken part,” mused the Border Boy, as the two castaways resumed their
dreary search for a passage to the outer world.



CHAPTER VIII.

NATURE’S PRISONERS.


But despite the most painstaking investigation of the valley, a task
which occupied them till almost sundown, the two oddly assorted
prisoners were unable to find anything that promised a means of escape.
They reached the spot where they had left the deer and flung themselves
wearily down upon the ground, too disheartened and tired even to voice
their disappointment.

“Gracious! Men imprisoned in a jail could not be more effectually shut
in,” said Jack, at length; “I feel almost like dashing myself against
these rock walls.”

His companion was compelled to admit that their situation did indeed
seem a hard one. For some time they sat buried in thought. Jack’s mind
was back in the camp of the Rangers. He wondered how his friends felt
over his disappearance, and what steps were being taken to find him.
How bitterly his heart ached to see his boy chums again he did not say
for fear of breaking down.

“We _must_ get out of this horrible place,” he cried, at length,
“to–morrow as soon as it is light I mean to examine the cliffs and, if
possible, to scale them.”

“You could not find a place that would afford a foothold,” objected his
companion.

“I’ll try, at any rate. I’d rather almost be dashed to death than drag
out a lingering existence in this valley,” burst out the boy.

“Well, let us have supper,” said Alvarez presently, “there is nothing
to be gained by railing at our fate. If the saints do not will that we
shall escape, depend upon it we will not.”

So saying he rose to his feet, shrugging his shoulders resignedly.

“What a contrast between the indifference of such a race and the
rugged determination of an American,” thought Jack, as he set to work
to rekindle the embers of the fire that had cooked their mid–day meal.

He was blowing them into flame when Alvarez called to him from among
the trees. He had found a species of oak which was burdened with
acorns. These, the Mexican declared, could be made into a kind of
bread if crushed and mixed with water. As this would be a welcome
addition to ungarnished deer meat, Jack was proportionately pleased at
the discovery. The Mexican set to work and ground the acorns between
two flat stones, after which he heated one of the latter till it was
almost red–hot. This done, the acorn paste was spread out on it, and
before long there was produced a rather “doughy” sort of flap–jack or
pan–cake. When one side was done Alvarez turned it till it was nicely
browned. By this time Jack had some broiled venison ready, and they sat
down to their second meal in the Lost Valley with good appetites.

The acorn flap–jack proved to be not at all unpalatable. It was rather
sweet and had a peculiar flavor; at any rate it afforded some variety
to the plain deer meat.

“Well, we shan’t starve here, at least,” commented the Mexican, as they
ate; “there seem to be plenty of deer and small game and an unlimited
supply of acorns for bread.”

“No, I suppose if it came down to that, we could live here for a
century, like two Robinson Crusoes,” agreed Jack, rather bitterly, “but
that’s not my plan. I mean to escape.”

“The young are always hopeful,” rejoined Alvarez, with one of his
all–expressive shrugs; “I suppose you think you can carry out your
plan.”

“I mean to make a mighty hard try at it, anyhow,” said Jack, setting
his lips in a determined line.

That evening as they sat by their camp fire, Alvarez told Jack that he
and his two companions on the raft had been leaders of the northern
wing of the revolutionary army. They had chosen the raft as a medium
to spy from, he explained, because it was possible in that way to
ascertain what the border patrol was doing, without so much risk of
being discovered as would have been the case had they used horses.

“I guess you wish you’d never seen the raft by this time,” commented
Jack, throwing some fresh wood on the fire.

“I do, indeed,” agreed the other fervently.

Soon after this they composed themselves to sleep, but it was long
before Jack closed his eyes.

He was just dozing off when the sound of a furtive footfall made him
sit up, broad awake in an instant. From the darkness two green points
were blazing at him.

“The eyes of some wild beast that has decided to pay us a visit,” said
Jack to himself.

He was just about to arouse Alvarez and get the revolver when the
creature that was prowling about the camp gave a sudden leap. Jack saw
a lithe body launched at him just in time to roll to one side.

The creature, balked in its spring, came down in the midst of the hot
ashes of the smoldering fire. Instantly a piercing howl of anguish
split the night. The Mexican leaped up and appeared to be fully awake
the instant he opened his eyes. At any rate the great, tawny body was
still writhing about in the embers when two shots crackled from his
revolver. The big animal gave a spring and another howl of pain and
then fell over in a heap, rolling to one side of the fire.

“What—whatever was it?” cried Jack, rather timorously, for the
suddenness of the attack had rather unnerved him.

“A mountain lion, and a monster, too,” came the reply. “Come up and
take a look at him.”

“Are you quite sure he is dead?”

“Positive. Wait a minute and I’ll make sure, however.”

So saying the Mexican stooped and picked a glowing coal out of the
fire. He threw it so that it fell on the motionless beast’s hide.
But the animal did not stir. Unquestionably it was quite dead. Jack
approached it, having poked up the fire the better to see the brute. He
marveled at its size. It was indeed a giant of its kind and must have
weighed six hundred pounds or more, and was lithe and sinewy as a cat.

“What splendid condition it is in! I’d like to skin it and take the
hide out of this valley as a souvenir.”

“So you are still certain that we can get out?”

“I am not _certain_, but I don’t want to give over trying till we have
tested every avenue of hope.”

“_Caramba!_ But you Americans are wonderful people! A Mexican boy would
be sitting around crying if he were in the same fix. In the morning we
will take the pelt off this brute, and if we ever do get out, the skin
will always serve as a memento of a dreadful time.”

The mountain lion scare being over, they composed themselves to sleep
again. Jack recollected having read or heard that when a mountain lion
is killed, its mate will find it out and avenge it. But even though the
thought gave him cause for disquietude he was not able to stay awake;
and although distant howlings told him that another puma was in the
vicinity, nature asserted herself and sealed his eyes in slumber.

The sun had hardly peeped above the rim of the bowl–like valley when
Jack and Alvarez were astir. Breakfast was cooked and eaten hurriedly,
and then the great lion was skinned. This done, Jack started out to put
his plans in execution.

The Mexican did not accompany him. He deemed Jack’s mission a useless
one. In fact, it did seem very like an attempt at suicide to try to
scale the valley’s lofty, almost perpendicular walls.



CHAPTER IX.

A CLIMB FOR LIFE.


Jack strolled along at the foot of the cliffs, anxiously scanning
every inch of them in the hope of spying some place that afforded an
opportunity to climb upward. The cliffs varied in height from two
hundred to three, and even four hundred feet. Great beetling crags of
gray stone, too steep to afford roothold to more than a few scanty
shrubs, filled him with oppression and gloom.

The boy felt this disheartening influence as he made his way along the
edges of the valley. From time to time he sighted game—deer, rabbits
and a good many quail; but as he had not brought their solitary firearm
along he did not pay much attention to the animals.

At last he halted at the foot of a cliff that was less precipitous
than the others. It had, in fact, a slight slope to it, and was more
closely grown with bushes and small trees which might be grasped by any
one attempting to climb it.

Jack had his knife with him, a heavy–bladed, business–like bit of
cutlery of finely tempered steel, but strong and thick withal. He drew
it out, opened the blade and began hacking at the cliff’s face. It was
of a soft sort of stone, and he could easily cut depressions in it.

“Good,” murmured the boy, “I actually believe that I may be able to
scale this cliff, although it may take a long time.”

He gauged its height carefully and estimated that from the floor of the
valley to the summit of the precipice it must be fully three hundred
feet.

“If the situation was not so desperate I would never dream of
attempting to climb that awful height,” mused the boy, “but necessity
often drives where courage would falter.”

So thinking, he cast off his coat, laid it on the ground and his hat
beside it. Then he clambered over the pile of stones that lay at the
foot of the cliff and began his climb. For the first forty feet or so
his task was not so difficult. But it was hot, and the perspiration
began to run off the laboring lad in streams.

He paused to rest. Jack was now, as has been said, about two score feet
from the floor of the valley. Up to this point the cliff had sloped
at quite an angle; but now it reared itself upward in a seemingly
impassable escarpment, like the wall of a giant’s castle.

“Now for the real tug–of–war,” thought Jack, when he had rested.

Tightening his belt, he braced himself for what he knew would be a
desperately dangerous climb. First he dug out holes to fit his hands
and then began working his way up. From time to time he was able to
grasp bushes and stunted trees, and these helped him greatly in his
task. When he reached even the narrowest ledge he laid down to rest,
extending himself at full length and panting like a spent hound.

Owing to the soft nature of the rock, however, he progressed rather
better than he had anticipated. But it was slow work. From time to time
the face of the cliff was so precipitous that he was compelled to make
a detour to find an easier place to cut his steps.

Once he looked down; but he did not repeat the experiment. The sight
of the dizzy height, to which he clung like some crawling insect,
almost unnerved him. For several minutes, with a palpitating heart and
a sickened feeling at the pit of his stomach, he hugged the rock, not
daring to look either up or down.

But at last his courage came back and he began his painful progress
upward once more. Foot by foot he climbed, and at last, when resting
on a ledge, he dared to look about him to see what progress he had
made. To his delight he saw that he had come more than halfway up the
precipice, although above him its rugged face still towered frowningly
as if daring him to surmount it.

[Illustration: THE SIGHT OF THE DIZZY HEIGHT ALMOST UNNERVED HIM.]

“Well, I would never have believed that I could have climbed to such a
height with so little inconvenience,” mused the boy. “Of course, the
climb is a good deal rougher than it looks from below; but still it’s
an experience I wouldn’t go through again for hundreds of dollars.”

Having rested on the ledge and munched some deer meat and acorn
flap–jack which he had brought with him, Jack recommenced his climb. It
spoke marvels for his cool head, great strength and wonderful endurance
that the boy had progressed as far as he had. Few but an American youth
of the most steel–like fiber and sterling grit would have dared to
undertake such a task. And yet, before Jack there still lay the hardest
part of his endeavor.

So steep was the cliff face now that the lad did not dare to pause in
his climb. He steadily progressed although his hands were cut and
bleeding by this time, and his feet ached as cruelly as did other
parts of his anatomy. But just when it seemed to the lad that his body
could not stand another fraction of an ounce of strain, he happened
on a place where a watercourse from above had cut a sort of shallow
cleft in the precipice. In this grew shrubs and several trees, and Jack
struggled to gain this oasis in the dangerous desert of his climb for
life.

Gaining it, he flung himself at full length on a bed of sweet smelling
yellow flowers under the shade of a broad–leaved bay tree. In the
stillness of that lonely and awful height, halfway between earth and
sky, his breathing sounded as loud as the exhaust of a steam engine.
But by–and–by he recovered his breath, and began to wish with all his
soul for some water.

That fearful climb had racked both nerve and muscle; but even more
than his fatigue did Jack feel the cruel pangs of a burning thirst.
Some grass grew in that lonely little grove on the cliff face, and
he chewed some of this for the sake of the moisture that exuded from
it. But this was far from satisfying. In fact, it only aggravated his
thirst by mocking it.

He rose on one elbow and looked about him. At a short distance up the
steep, dry watercourse he saw a patch of vivid green. To his mind that
could betoken nothing but the presence of water near the surface. At
any rate he felt that it was worth investigating.

Reaching the patch of verdure, the boy fell on his hands and knees,
and with a sharp–edged stone began scraping away at the ground. To his
unspeakable delight he had not dug down more than a few inches before
the ground began to grow moist.

Greatly encouraged, he dug away with his improvised tool with
renewed vigor. He excavated quite a hole, and then lay down in the
shade waiting for it to fill up. Before long a few inches of warm,
muddy–colored liquid could be discerned at the bottom of the hole. It
did not look inviting, this coffee–colored, tepid mixture, but Jack was
not in the mood to be fastidious.

Casting himself down on his stomach, he plunged his face into the
water, sucking it greedily in. Then he bathed his hands and face.
He was still engaged in this last occupation when his attention was
distracted by a low growl from below him.

The boy looked up quickly, and then almost toppled over backward with
astonishment.

Facing him, and lashing its stubby tail angrily, was a large bob–cat.
The creature had its wicked–looking teeth bared, and the boy could see
its sharp claws. How it came to be in that place he could not imagine.
But its emaciated condition seemed to indicate that it must have in
some way fallen from the cliff above.

Evidently it was half mad from deprivation of food and water, for under
ordinary conditions a bob–cat—although a really dangerous foe if
cornered—will not attack a human being without provocation.

The wild beast’s object was, evidently, to get at the water hole which
Jack had so painstakingly scooped out. The boy would have been willing
enough to allow it to accomplish its purpose. But evidently the half
famished creature regarded him as an enemy to be dispatched before it
proceeded to slake its thirst.

It crouched down till its fawn–colored belly touched the ground and
then, uttering a snarling sort of cry, it launched its body through the
air at the boy.

So strong was its leap that tempered steel springs could not
have hurled its body forward with more velocity. Jack uttered an
involuntary cry of alarm. Above him was the steep cliff, while to move
even a short distance in either direction from the dry watercourse
would mean a death plunge to the valley below.



CHAPTER X.

A BATTLE IN MID–AIR.


But Jack Merrill’s mind never worked quicker or to better effect than
in an emergency. He perceived the instant that the creature crouched
that its intention was to spring on him. Swift as a flash he reached
down and seized a stone.

As the bob–cat hurled itself into the air Jack’s arm shot out. The
stone sped from his hand and caught the creature fairly between the
eyes. Had a bullet struck it the animal could not have been checked
more effectually. It dropped to the ground, rolled up in a furry ball,
scratching and spitting furiously, and then, with a yowl of rage and
pain, it lost its footing on the edge of the watercourse.

The last Jack saw of it the creature plunged over the brink of the
precipice up which the Border Boy had so laboriously toiled. As he
heard the body go rolling and bumping down toward the valley, Jack
shuddered. Had things turned out differently he might have been in
its place, for the boy well knew that if once the maddened animal had
fastened its claws in him he would not have stood a chance without a
weapon.

Jack sat down to rest once more, this time keeping a cautious lookout
for any other wild creatures; but none appeared, and it was evident
that his theory that the animal had accidentally dropped from above was
a correct one.

“Well,” said Jack to himself, after an interval, “if I’m to get to the
top of that cliff I’ve got to start in right now. Ugh! It doesn’t look
as if I could possibly make it; but then it’s equally certain that I
can’t climb down again. The thought makes me sick; so I’ve _got_ to
tackle it. There’s no other way out of it.”

Fortifying himself by a cooling drink, to which he added another wash,
the boy prepared to take up his task again.

Above the dry watercourse the cliff shot up more precipitously than
the part he had already traversed below it; but Jack steeled himself
to the thought of the dizzy climb. Knife in hand he worked his way
up, clinging to the face of the cliff desperately at times, and again
resting where some vagrant bush offered him a hand or foothold.

In the meantime, below in the valley, Alvarez, returning from a hunt
for more food, began to worry about the boy. Not a bad man at heart,
Alvarez was a true son of the Mexican revolution. He decided that all
Americans, or Gringoes, as he contemptuously called them, were the born
foes of the Mexicans. It had been with this conviction that he and his
companions had set out to spy on the Rangers who, they thought, menaced
them, instead of merely patrolling the Border to prevent lawless acts
on American soil.

Since his brief acquaintance with Jack, however, Alvarez had found
cause to revise his opinion. Himself a courageous man, he admired
courage and grit in others, and of these qualities we know Jack
possessed full and abundant measure.

Returning, then, from his hunt with some quail and rabbits, Alvarez
began to be seriously alarmed about Jack. Not for one moment did the
Mexican deem it possible that the lad could have actually found a way
to scale those awful cliffs. He had confidently expected that on his
return to camp he would find Jack awaiting him. When, therefore, he
could see no trace of the boy his alarm was genuine and deep.

He carefully deposited his game out of harm’s way in the trees, and
then set out to see if he could find any trace of the boy to whom he
had become attached in their short acquaintance.

As he advanced below the cliffs he carefully scanned the foot of the
precipitous heights for what he dreaded to find; for Alvarez had begun
to fear that Jack had made a daring attempt to escape and summon help
and had met death in a fearful fall from the rocky crags.

“The boy would have been mad to attempt such a climb,” he muttered, as
he moved along, “why, not even a mountain goat could find a foothold
up yonder. It is impossible that he should have tried such a thing.
It would have been sheer madness. And yet—and yet when it comes to
such things the Gringoes are assuredly mad. They will dare anything it
seems.”

Musing thus the Mexican traversed the greater part of the valley,
pondering deeply over the possible fate of his young friend.

“It is a thing without explanation that he could have climbed even a
few feet up those cliffs,” ran the burden of his thoughts; “yet if he
has not, why do I not see a trace of him here below?”

“_Caramba!_ Can it be that he has slipped on a lofty crag and is
suspended high above the valley, injured, perhaps dying, and beyond
reach of human aid?”

On and on trudged the Mexican, growing more and more alarmed every
instant.

Suddenly, as he cast his eye up toward the summit of a lofty precipice,
his attention was caught by an object moving slowly up its surface,
like a fly on a high wall.

The Mexican gazed steadily at it. He believed that it was an eagle
or condor hovering about its nest in the dizzy heights, but still
something odd about the moving object arrested and gripped his
attention irresistibly.

“No, it is not an eagle,” he muttered, “but, then, what is it? No
quadruped could climb that cliff. What, then, can it be?”

The sun was sinking low over the western wall of the cañon and the
valley itself was beginning to be shrouded in purple shadow. But at
that great height the light was still bright. Suddenly the moving
object emerged from a patch of shade cast by an overhanging rock.

Simultaneously the Mexican almost sprang into the air under the shock
of his amazement. He crossed himself and then his lips moved.

“By the Saints! It’s Jack Merrill!” he cried, in a hollow voice.

For an instant he stood like a thing of wood or stone, every muscle
rigid in terrible suspense. And all the time that tiny speck on the
cliff face was moving slowly and painfully upward.

Clasping his hands the Mexican stood riveted to the spot. Then his dry
lips began to move.

“The saints aid him! The brave boy is working his way to the top of the
cliff. He has neared its summit. But can he win it? And, see, there are
the steps he has cut in the lower cliff face. It must be that he is
working his way upward still by those means. Santa Maria! What courage!

“I dare not call out to him. At that fearful height one backward look
might cause him to lose his hold and plunge downward like a stone. Oh,
if I could only help, only do something to aid him! But, no, I must
stand here helpless, unable to move hand or foot.

“Never again will I say anything against a Gringo. No boy south of the
Border would dare such a feat. See now! _Caramba!_ For an instant he
slipped. I dare not look.”

The Mexican buried his face in his hands and crouched on the ground.
Emotional as are all of his race, the sight of that battle between life
and death, hundreds of feet above him, had almost unstrung him.

At last he dared to uncover his eyes again and once more fixed them on
the toiling atom on the sunlit cliff face.

But now he burst out into tones of joy.

“Sanctissima Maria! See, he is almost at the summit. Oh, brave Gringo!
Climb on. May your head be steady and your hands and feet nimble.”

The sweat was pouring down the Mexican’s face, his knees smote together
and his hands shook as he stood like one paralyzed, stock still,
watching the outcome of Jack Merrill’s fearful climb. His breath came
fast and the veins on his forehead stood out like whip cords. As he
watched thus his lips moved in constant, silent prayers for the safety
of the young Border Boy.

At last he saw the infinitesimal speck that was Jack Merrill reach the
summit of that frowning height. He saw the boy thrust his knife into
his belt, and watched him place one hand on the ridge of the precipice
and draw himself up.

The next instant the cliff face was bare of life. The fight with death
had been won. But Alvarez as he saw Jack attain safety on the summit
of the precipice sank back with a groan. The strain under which he had
labored had caused the Mexican to swoon.

As he lay there perfectly still three figures appeared at the upper
end of the valley in the direction of the Pool of Death. They began
advancing down the valley just as Alvarez opened his eyes and staggered
dizzily to his feet.



CHAPTER XI.

RANGERS ON THE TRAIL.


It was about an hour after he had secured the firearm which he intended
for Jack’s use that Baldy rode back into the Rangers’ camp in, what
was for him, a state of great perturbation. The Chinaman was still up
scouring dishes, and to him Baldy rode, spurring his pony almost into
the remains of the camp fire in his anxiety.

All about lay the recumbent forms of the Rangers, sleeping under the
stars on the expanse of plain. Snores and deep breathing showed that
every one of them was deeply wrapped in the healthy slumber of the
plainsman.

“Wallee maller, Massel Baldy?” cried the Mongolian, as Baldy spurred
his pony up to him.

“Nuffin, you yellow–mugged Chinee,” shot out Baldy, breathing tensely,
despite his effort to appear careless; “have you seen anything of that
Tenderfoot that went on watch with me a while ago?”

“No, me no see him, Massel Baldy. Whafo’ you so heap much ’cited?”

The keen–eyed Oriental had pierced Baldy’s mask of carelessness, and
saw readily enough that the old plainsman was badly worried.

“Me excited, you pig–tailed gopher!” roared out Baldy angrily. “I was
never so easy–minded in my life. Where’s the cap sleeping?”

“Over yonder, Massel Baldy. Him litee by chuck wagon.”

Baldy did not wait to make a reply. He steered his plunging pony
skillfully among the sleeping Rangers till he reached a bundled–up heap
of blankets which he knew must contain Captain Atkinson. Baldy threw
himself from his horse in an instant, at the same time slipping the
reins over his pony’s head, according to the plainsman’s custom.

Reaching down, he shook the captain vigorously.

“Hello! hello, there, what’s up?” came a muffled rejoinder from amidst
the blankets.

But the next instant Captain Atkinson, broad awake, was sitting up.

“Oh, you, Baldy? Well, what’s the trouble?”

“Dunno jes’ erzackly, boss,” stammered out Baldy, “but it’s about that
Tenderfoot kid that you gave me ter mind.”

Baldy was plainly embarrassed. He shoved back his sombrero and
scratched his head vigorously. At the same time he jingled his spurs as
he shifted his feet nervously.

Captain Atkinson’s tone was sharp when he next spoke.

“You mean Jack Merrill? I’d have you understand, Baldy, that he is no
Tenderfoot. He’s only a boy, but he’s been through as much as most men
of twice his years. But what about him?”

If the question was sharp and to the point, as was Captain Atkinson’s
wont, so was Baldy’s answer. Rangers are not men who are in the habit
of wasting words.

“He’s went.”

“What?”

“I mean what I say, boss. The kid’s vamoosed, gone, skidooed.”

“No nonsense, Baldy. Explain yourself.”

“There ain’t much to explain, boss.”

“If Jack Merrill has gone, I should say that there was a good deal to
explain on your part.”

Baldy shifted uneasily.

“It warn’t no fault of mine, boss,” he protested.

“I’ll be the judge of that. What’s your story?”

“Just this. The kid went on watch with me. As you told me, I kept him
close alongside. He didn’t hev no shootin’ iron, so I rode back to camp
to git one. When I got back to the Rio he was gone.”

“Gone?”

“That’s what.”

“Have you looked for him?”

“Beat the brush frum San Antone to breakfus’, but ther ain’t no sign uv
hair nor hide uv him.”

“You saw the other men?”

“Sure!”

“Did they know nothing?”

“Not a thing. But the kid couldn’t hev passed in either direction
without goin’ up in an air ship.”

“None of your jokes. This is serious. Answer my questions. You left him
where?”

“Not far from the foot of the trail to the waterin’ place.”

“You told him to stay there?”

“Sure thing. You see I lef’ him ter git him a shootin’ iron. I didn’t
think it was right that he shouldn’t be heeled. The greasers————”

“All right, never mind that part of it. Well, you got the gun?”

“Yes; and when I took it back fer him ther kid had gone.”

“How long did all this take?”

“Waal, I’ve bin huntin’ fer ther dern little pinto ever since. But I
should say that I rode to camp and back in about half an hour. You see,
I hurried.”

“Humph! You found no sign of trouble when you got back?”

“Nary a bit. All wuz quiet as a Chink’s funeral in Tombstone.”

“Had the others heard nothing while you were away?”

“Not a sound so fur as they told me.”

“It’s not possible to ford the river at that point?”

“Boss, a cayuse couldn’t swim it, the current’s that swift.”

“That’s so, too, I thought for a moment that the boy might have
foolishly tried to cross into Mexican territory.”

“Ef he did, it’s flowers fer his’n ef we ever find him,” declared Baldy
piously.

“Let us hope it is not as bad as that. But it is most mysterious.”

“Very consterious,” agreed Baldy. “You see, there were men to the east
and west of where the kid was, and they didn’t hear nor see nothing.”

“And yet the boy has vanished.”

“Waal, he ain’t ter be found,” admitted Baldy, ignoring the long word.

Captain Atkinson sat up in his blankets lost in thought. At length
Baldy ventured to break in on the silence.

“What yer goin’ ter do, boss? Ther young maverick may be needin’ help
right now and needin’ it bad, too.”

“That’s correct, Baldy. We must take some action at once. But the case
is so puzzling that I hardly know what to do about it. Jack Merrill
didn’t impress me as the kind of boy that would run needlessly into
danger.”

“No; ther young pinto had some hoss sense,” admitted Baldy, flicking
his chaps with his quirt.

“That being the case, how are we to account for his disappearance? If
he had been attacked by greasers there would have been some noise, some
disturbance.”

“Maybe he jes’ fell in ther Rio and was drown–ded,” suggested Baldy.

“I don’t think that. Jack Merrill is an athletic lad, and among other
things, I am told, a first–class swimmer. No, we have to figure on some
other line.”

“Waal, I’m free to admit that I’m up a tree, boss,” grunted Baldy.

By this time Captain Atkinson was out of his blankets and hastily
drawing on his chaps and pulling his blue cowboy shirt over his head.
When his boots had been drawn on and spurs adjusted he ordered Baldy
to saddle his pony and bring it over. As soon as this was done the
Captain of the Rangers and Baldy rode out of the camp as silently as
possible and made their way to the river. But all Captain Atkinson’s
questioning failed to elicit any more facts than he had been able to
glean from Baldy. There was nothing left to do but to wait for daybreak
to make an examination for tracks that might throw some light on the
mystery.

In the meantime Ralph and Walt were informed of Jack’s mysterious
disappearance. To Captain Atkinson’s astonishment, they did not appear
nearly so much alarmed as he had feared. Instead, they accepted the
news with almost stoical faces.

“You think that Jack is safe, then?” asked the captain of the Rangers.
“At any rate, you don’t seem much worried about him.”

“It’s not our way to worry till we know we have good cause to,
Captain,” rejoined Ralph. “If Jack has vanished, I’m willing to
swear that he is off on some sort of duty connected with the Rangers.
Possibly he had not time to report back before leaving. Depend upon it,
Jack will come out all right.”

“That’s my idea, too,” declared Walt stoutly.

“Well, I admire the confidence you boys have in your leader,” declared
Captain Atkinson warmly, “but just the same as soon as it’s daylight I
mean to start a thorough investigation, and if harm has come to him it
will go hard with those that caused it.”



CHAPTER XII.

A BAFFLING PURSUIT.


But a close scrutiny of the river banks by daylight failed to reveal
anything more definite than a maze of trampled footmarks and broken
brush at the spot where Jack had encountered his combat with the three
Mexican spies. Captain Atkinson, one of the most expert of men in the
plainsman’s art of reading signs from seemingly insignificant features,
confessed that he was baffled.

“It is plain enough that Jack was involved in some sort of a fight,”
he said, “but beyond that I cannot say. The most puzzling thing about
his disappearance, in fact, lies in the absence of pony tracks. I can’t
imagine how whoever it was attacked him reached this vicinity without
being heard by the sentries east and west of the trail.”

“Can it not be possible that in some manner he fell into the river and
was swept away by the swift current?” inquired Ralph.

The captain shook his head.

“Of course, it is possible, but it hardly lies within the range of
probabilities,” he declared.

They were still discussing the extraordinary situation when Baldy
uttered an exclamation. He had been examining the river bank and now he
held up a bit of rope that he had discovered on the verge of the stream.

“Look here, cap,” he cried, “I’m a long–horned maverick if this ain’t
queer.”

“A bit of rope, eh, Baldy?” rejoined the captain. “Well, that would
seem to indicate that something had been tied there. Clearly it was not
a horse or we should see the tracks. It must then have been————”

“A boat!” burst in Walt, unable to control himself.

“How could a boat ever get along in this shallow, swirling stream?”
cried Ralph.

“No; but some contrivance of logs that would float, such as a raft,
might have navigated the river,” suggested Captain Atkinson, little
guessing how close he was to the truth.

The captain now had the rope in his hands and was examining the frayed
end.

“This rope has been recently severed,” he decided.

“Cut?” questioned Ralph.

“No, broken,” was the rejoinder.

“Then ther kid must have gone down the river,” said Baldy.

“Undoubtedly,” rejoined the captain.

“In that case we must follow the stream in search of him,” cried Walt.

“Yes. We will start as soon as possible, too. Baldy, see that
everything is made ready for us at once.”

“Ain’t I going along, cap?” pleaded Baldy.

“No; I shall leave you in command of the camp till I return. In the
meantime the boys and I will ride back with you to camp and prepare for
our expedition.”

The boys’ faces were flushed with excitement as the return ride was
begun. Eagerly they discussed between themselves the probabilities of
recovering Jack, while the captain rode with bowed head as if buried
in thought. The mystery of Jack’s fate worried him deeply, and he was
beginning to think that there were more complications to it than he had
at first imagined.

It was an hour after that the search party set forth. They carried
blankets, emergency kits, food, firearms and hatchets. Also each had
a stout rawhide lariat, each “rope” being about forty feet in length.
Thus equipped they started out on what was to prove a most eventful
journey, and one in which they were destined to encounter more
surprises than they dreamed.

By sunset the first day of their search they found themselves in a wild
canyon through which the river flowed swiftly. Camp was made at a spot
near which a clear spring of water gushed from a wall of the place. It
was slightly alkaline, but they did not mind that, as it was preferable
even as it was to the muddy, discolored waters of the Rio Grande. The
ponies were picketed, a fire was lighted, supper cooked and things put
in order for the night.

It was not a cheerful party that gathered about the camp fire. All of
them were pretty well exhausted and disheartened by their absolute
failure to find any trace of Jack. Captain Atkinson alone would not
admit discouragement. He did all he could to keep up the flagging
spirits of the two lads, and after supper had been despatched he
inquired if they would care to hear some of his experiences on the
Border.

“Gladly,” declared Ralph, relieved to hear something that might, for a
time at least, take his mind off the possible predicament of his chum.

Captain Atkinson paused to cram his old black pipe with strong tobacco,
light it with a glowing coal, and then plunged into his story. As he
talked the murmuring voice of the river and the sighing of the night
wind in the scanty trees of the canyon formed a fitting accompaniment
to his narrative.

“Some years ago,” he began, “I was foreman of a small ranch in the
neighborhood of Las Animos, in the eastern part of the state. It was
at a time when cattle and horse thieves, ‘rustlers’ as we call them,
had been particularly active. Hardly a rancher in the vicinity but had
suffered from their depredations, and feeling ran pretty high against
them, I can tell you.

“Well, our ranch, which was known as the Flying U, had managed somehow
to escape unscathed, although all round us the rustlers had been
operating boldly and openly. Their method was to raid a ranch, drive
the cattle or horses across the Border and then sell them to Mexican
dealers, who drove them to the coast and there disposed of them as best
they could. Many were shipped to European ports, so I heard.

But it was impossible that our ranch should long remain untouched in
the midst of the general robberies and rascality going on. Although we
guarded against it in every possible way, one night our ‘Far Pasture’
as it was called, was raided and a fine bunch of young steers carried
off. It was known that the leader of the band was a man named Alvarez;
but beyond this fact and the further one that he had been a leader in
several of the frequent revolutions in his country, we knew little
about him. He was, however, without doubt the most successful and
daring rustler that the Border was ever harassed with.

“In fact, so bold was he, and so impossible of capture did he appear,
that some of the more superstitious men in the district began to hint
that he was of supernatural origin. Those were wild, uncultured days,
and the belief began to spread. Every fresh raid added strength to the
rumor, until at the time of the robbery of the Flying U I was unable
to persuade anyone to accompany me in pursuit of Alvarez; for I was
determined to take after the rascal even if the chase led me across the
Border.

“It may have been a foolish resolve, but I was younger then and
hot–blooded. Well, when I found that I would have to go alone or lose
valuable time getting some men to accompany me, I delayed no longer. I
oiled up my revolver and rifle and loaded some provisions on my saddle,
together with a roll of blankets. Then, with a tough little pinto pony
that was good for his fifty miles a day, I took the trail.



CHAPTER XIII.

THE CAPTAIN’S STORY.


“I soon found that I had entered on a chase that was to prove more than
I had bargained for. Not that I had any difficulty in picking up the
trail of the stolen cattle—that part was easy enough. I followed it
all day, and at night found myself not far from the river, in a country
creased and criss–crossed by dry gulches and arroyos. It was a gloomy,
desolate–looking place enough, but, as it was growing dark, I had no
choice but to camp there.

“At the bottom of one of the arroyos I found a muddy, ill–smelling pool
of seepage water. It did not taste good, so I fell back on what I had
in my canteen and let the pinto drink it. The sun sank in a red ball of
fire and there was a peculiar sulphury sort of smell in the air. But I
was thinking of other things than the weather and sat up late under the
stars figuring out the situation.

“The result of my mental activities was that I decided to rest till
midnight, when the moon was high, and then plug on again. I knew the
moon would be full, and figured that I could follow the trail all right
by its light. I’ve always been pretty well broken in to the habit of
waking up at the time I want to, and so it was within a few minutes of
twelve o’clock when I was ready to start off once more.

“With my pony saddled, I mounted and was off on the path of adventure
again. All that night I followed the trail, and by morning found myself
over the Border and in Mexico. It was here that I decided to execute
a bit of strategy. In my kit I had, in accordance with a half–formed
scheme which had come into my mind before I set out, placed some
Mexican–looking garments. As I spoke the language well and was dark
enough to be taken for a Mexican anyhow, I didn’t think I’d have much
difficulty in making myself out a native of the country in which I then
was.

“You can readily see why I adopted this precaution. Mexicans always
have, and always will, hate the Gringoes. They can’t help it any
more than they can help their skins being dark. It’s bred in them, I
suppose. So ‘into the enemy’s country’ as it were, I proceeded, feeling
much more secure in my disguise.

“I soon had a chance to learn how nearly I approached to the character
I had assumed. About noon that same day, after crossing a rather barren
stretch of country covered with giant yuccas and stunted trees, I came
in sight of a clump of willows, amidst which smoke was rising. At first
my heart gave a bound. I knew I was still on Alvarez’s trail and for an
instant I thought that he and his band were right ahead of me.

“But I was speedily undeceived. As I drew closer I saw that there
was an adobe hut amidst the willows, and leaning on a gate in a
tumble–down barb wire fence was a wild, unkempt figure, evidently that
of the proprietor of the small, lonely ranch. Beards are rare among
Mexicans, therefore I was somewhat surprised to see that the man I was
approaching had one that almost reached his waist.

“On his face it reached his eyes, forming a little mask of hair, from
amid which a pair of cunning, deep–set eyes scrutinized me closely. I
bid the fellow good–day in Mexican and asked if I could rest and eat
there, as well as obtain hay and water for my pony. He appeared to
hesitate an instant, but then came to a sudden resolution. He swung the
gate open with surly hospitality, and with a wave of his hand invited
me to come in.

“I was not slow to accept the invitation. While he led the pony to
an adobe barn in the rear of the place I entered the house. It was
just like any other Mexican residence. Dark, cool and bare, except for
chairs and a rough table. On the porch, roofed with willow boughs, was
the inevitable water–cooler, or ‘olla,’ of porous earthenware. My host
soon returned from his task of stabling the horse and informed me that
he was keeping bachelor’s hall. His wife, he said, was away visiting
friends in another part of the province.

“It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him if he had seen anything of
Alvarez, but I refrained, urged to that decision by some mysterious
instinct. While the man prepared a meal of corn paste, dried beef and
frijoles, I caught him eying me curiously once or twice. I had told him
I was a native of another province, on my way to Santa Rosalia, a town
about twenty miles distant. I flattered myself that my disguise was so
good that the fellow had not penetrated it. But in this, as you will
hear, I was grievously wrong.

“The rough meal being cooked, we sat down and ate together. The man
seemed a taciturn, ugly sort of chap, and replied to my questions in a
sullen manner. Moreover, I didn’t half like the way he kept sizing me
up, as it were. But I determined not to meet trouble half way, and made
a good meal with as stout a heart as I could.

“The food despatched, I decided to push on, and informed the man of my
intention. He said he would get my pony for me and left the place. I
was helping myself to a drink from the olla in a gourd cup when my host
reappeared. He looked much distressed, and, on my inquiring what was
the matter, he informed me that my pony was ‘mucho malo’ meaning that
the animal was sick.

“I wasted no words, but hastened to the stable. There, sure enough, was
my poor pinto in a sad state of distress. His eyes were glassy, his
coat wet with sweat, and he was shaking in every limb. One look at the
animal was enough. I saw in a flash that he had been poisoned.

“With what motive it was easy enough to guess. The fellow had only too
clearly seen through my disguise, and, being in sympathy with Alvarez,
had determined to prevent me from following him further.

“My position was about as bad as it could well be. I was several miles
from the Border and in a part of the country entirely strange to me.
My first impulse was to attack the bearded man and seize one of his
ponies in exchange for the one he had poisoned. But on second thoughts
I decided to move more slowly in the matter. I guess I was aided in
this determination by the fact that while I was examining the pony the
bearded man had come stealthily into the stable, and, looking round
suddenly, I caught him eying me intently.

“’What’s the matter with the pony?’ I asked in as easy a tone as I
could assume.

“’Quien sabe?’ rejoined the man with a shrug of his shoulders. He went
on to say that he thought the beast was locoed, meaning that he had
eaten ‘loco’ weed, which possesses the peculiarity of driving horses
crazy if it doesn’t kill them.

“It was on the tip of my tongue to tell him that I knew a great deal
better, but I held myself in check and appeared to agree with him.

“’Well,’ said I, ‘since the pony is not fit to use, perhaps I can
borrow one from you to continue my journey?’

“But, not much to my surprise, he shook his head. All his ponies, he
said, were in a distant pasture, and till his wife returned he would
not have one. He had hardly said this when there came a shrill whinny
from some nearby point. Had the animal that uttered it meant to give
the lie to his words, it could not have done so more effectually.

“As it was useless to affect not to have heard the whinny, I asked
him how it was that the noise could have been heard so plainly from a
distant pasture. He eyed me narrowly as he rejoined that the wind must
have carried the sound.

“I kept my composure and merely nodded.

“’How far is it to the pasture?’ I asked.

“’Oh, quite some distance; too far to walk,’ he said.

“’Nevertheless, I’ll try to walk it,’ rejoined I, ‘for I must have a
pony to continue my journey with.’

“At this he seemed to have arrived at a bold determination to cast all
disguise aside.

“’Your journey stops here, beast of a Gringo!’ he shouted, and sprang
at me like a tiger.

“Now I am of a pretty husky build, but what with the suddenness of the
attack and the really remarkable strength of the man, I was completely
taken off my guard. The fellow had me by the throat and was shaking the
life out of me before I knew what had happened. What defense I could
make I did. Whether I could have bested him or not I do not know, for
in the height of our struggling I was thrown against the heels of my
pony and the little brute lashed out viciously. One of its hoofs struck
me, and I felt my senses go out under the blow.

“When I came to, I was lying in pitch darkness. As you can imagine, it
was some little time before I could recollect just what had happened.
When remembrance rushed back I pulled myself together and took stock.
I found that I had received a blow on the side of the head, which,
although painful, did not appear to be so bad as might have been
expected.

“My next step was naturally to ascertain where I was. Groping about, I
found that I was in a room, and there was little doubt in my mind that
the room was in the house of the Mexican. As I had not been bound, the
inference was plain that he had not thought it worth while to do so
because there was no way of escape from the room.

“Fumbling in my pockets, I was rather surprised to find their contents
intact. My knife, matches and money all were there. Perhaps the bearded
man had intended to rifle me at his leisure, or perhaps he had not
thought it worth while. However that may be, I was rejoiced beyond
measure to find that at least I had the means of making a light.

“I struck a match and as its yellow light flickered up I saw that my
prison place was a bare room with whitewashed walls, one small window
high up, and a heavy door with formidable–looking iron hinges and lock.
I was approaching the door with the intention of trying if it was
possible to effect an escape that way when a key grated in the keyhole.

“At the same instant the match burned my fingers and went out.”



CHAPTER XIV.

RALPH’S HOUR OF DANGER.


“The next moment the door was flung open and a flood of light rushed
into the room. The latter came from a lantern carried by the bearded
man, who was the individual that had unlocked the door. In a flash it
came to me to employ the fellow’s own tactics on himself. Before he
had recovered from his evident astonishment at seeing me on my feet, I
flung myself at him like a thunderbolt.

“With the lantern he could not raise his hands in time to defend
himself, and he went down under my onslaught like a log. And then
a startling and astonishing thing occurred. My fingers had become
entangled in that monstrous beard, and in pulling them away the mass of
black hair came with them. It was as if a mask had been pulled off and
revealed the face underneath.

“The countenance I then beheld was the last on earth I expected to see
just then.

“It was that of Alvarez himself. He snarled like a vicious dog when
he saw what I had done. But I had him down and he could do nothing. I
forgot to mention that when he entered the room he had with him a coil
of hair rope, no doubt intending to bind me before I should recover
consciousness. I now used this on Alvarez while he bit and literally
foamed at the mouth. It was turning the tables with a vengeance.

“’Now then, you hound,’ I said, when I had finished, ‘tell me where
those cattle are and where your ponies are, or I’ll kill you here and
now instead of taking you back across the Border.’

“Of course, I had no intention of carrying out such a threat; but I
put on such a ferocious look as I spoke that the fellow changed from
a defiant, snapping wolf to a timid, cowering cur in an instant. He
begged me to save his life and he would tell me the whole truth.

“’See that you do,’ I said sternly.

“He told me that the lonely house was used as headquarters for his
gang, all of whom were now absent on a drive in another part of the
province.

“I was glad enough to hear this, for I by no means fancied having a
big fight on my hands, which would have been the case had the rascal’s
companions reappeared. My next questions, of course, dealt with the
whereabouts of the stolen cattle. He told me they were all rounded up
in a gulch not far from the house. I told him that at daybreak we would
go and get them and that he should help me drive them back across the
Border.

“To this he readily consented and side by side we waited for daylight.
As soon as it broke we made a hasty meal, I having to feed my
prisoner, for I dared not release his hands. This done, I ordered him
to set out ahead of me and show me the way to the secret cañon where
the cattle were cached. First, however, I made him take me to where the
ponies were picketed in a corral at the bottom of an arroyo. It was not
more than a few hundred yards from the house, but so well concealed
that if I had not heard one of the animals whinny, as I told you, I
should never have guessed at its existence. Before setting out, too, I
looked my pinto over and was glad to see that he appeared to be getting
over the effects of the poisonous dose.

“I tied Alvarez’s feet together under his pony’s body and made him
ride in front of me all the way to a range of low hills, in which he
said lay the place were the stolen cattle were ‘cached’ before being
driven to the coast. It was a wild and desolate–looking spot, but after
traversing the foothills of the dreary range we came to a valley in
which there was a stream and a plentiful crop of wild oats and bunch
grass. Feeding placidly amongst these was a bunch of cattle which I
instantly recognized as those I was in search of.

“I made Alvarez help me round them up and then began a drive the like
of which I never participated in before. We stopped at the ranch house
on the return journey for the pinto, who was, by this time, strong
enough to be led behind one of the other ponies. What a drive that was!
Besides watching the cattle, I had to keep a constant eye on Alvarez,
whom I had determined to bring back a captive to the States.

“But in spite of all my vigilance the tricky fellow escaped me. Rightly
judging that I valued the cattle more than his worthless hide, he
waited till we reached the vicinity of the Border. Then, taking his
opportunity when the cattle were restless, he struck spurs to his horse
and, tied as he was, dashed off. I fired after him, but that did not
stop him. The last I saw of him was a cloud of dust. It would have
been useless to pursue him, so I devoted myself to the cattle, and the
next night brought them home again safe and sound.

“Soon after that I became a Ranger, and have remained one ever since.
I’d like to tell you lads other tales of the Border, but it is late and
we must make an early start, so now—good–night.”

“Good–night,” echoed the boys, who had listened with the deepest
interest to the grizzled Ranger’s story, “we shall dream of that lone
ranch house.”

“I often do, I can assure you,” rejoined Captain Atkinson, with a
laugh. “I wonder if Alvarez does. I’ve never heard of him from that
day to this, except that I did hear some place that he had become a
revolutionary leader in Mexico.”

At the moment Captain Atkinson little imagined how close he was to a
second meeting with the notorious Alvarez, revolutionist and cattle
rustler.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jack flung himself face downward on the turf at the crest of the
precipice he had so miraculously conquered. His senses were swimming,
his lungs felt as if they would burst, his heart beat wildly, shaking
his frame. In truth the boy had come perilously close to the limit of
endurance. The feat he had accomplished would have been a test to a
hardened Border man, let alone a youth.

For the first few minutes Jack felt a deep conviction that he was going
to die—and he didn’t much care. But as life came back he struggled
to his feet and began to look about him. First he peered down into
the valley he had left to see if he could signal Alvarez and give him
to understand that he was bringing help if possible. But deep purple
shadows now obscured the valley floor, and he could see nothing of the
drama that was taking place below him.

It will be recalled, of course, that we left Alvarez thunderstruck at
the approach of three figures along the valley from the direction of
the Pool of Death. This was just after he had watched Jack’s speck–like
form vanish over the cliff top. For the sake of clearness we will now
relate what took place in the valley following Alvarez’s discovery of
the approach of the newcomers, and then go on to tell what befell Jack
after his recovery from exhaustion.

Alvarez kept his eyes fixed in wonderment on the trio as they came down
the valley. All at once he recognized one, slightly in advance, with a
cry of astonishment. At the same instant Captain Atkinson, for it was
he, recognized Alvarez. For an instant neither spoke, and the two lads
accompanying the captain, who, as the reader will have guessed, were
Ralph Stetson and Walt Phelps, also came to a halt.

“What’s the matter, captain?” inquired Ralph, regarding the Mexican
with some astonishment, for his perturbation was only too evident.

“Why, boys, of all the adventures that have befallen us since we set
out to look for Jack this is the most surprising.”

“How is that?” inquired Ralph.

“Simply that this man before us is the very Alvarez about whom I told
you the other night.”

But the reader must be wondering how the captain of the Rangers and
the two lads came to be in the inaccessible valley. To explain this we
must, at the risk of being tedious, go back a few hours.

The morning following Captain Atkinson’s narration of his experience
with Alvarez the trail had once more been taken up. Before many hours
had passed the searchers came to the fork in the Rio, and stopped
almost nonplussed. They had no means of judging whether the boat or
raft which they believed had carried off Jack had gone down the Rio or
had been swept down the branch stream.

The question was decided in an ingenious manner by Captain Atkinson.
Some distance above the fork in the stream lay a big log near the
water’s edge. Doubtless it had been carried down in some freshet. At
any rate, to the Ranger’s shrewd mind it suggested a way of solving the
problem. Under his direction the boys rolled it into the stream, wading
out with it as far as they dared.

Then they watched it as the river swept it along. At the fork a current
caught the log and whirled it off down the branch stream.

“That decides it,” declared Captain Atkinson, “we will follow the fork
of the Rio. If Jack was on anything that floated it would have been
swept from the main stream in the same way as that log.”

They then proceeded to find a way to cross the main stream so as to
get on the bank of the branch current. They soon found a ford about a
mile up the river. After some cautious reconnoitering Captain Atkinson
decided to cross the stream at that point. But he warned the boys that
they might have to swim with their horses before they reached the other
side.

“It is impossible to tell if there aren’t deep holes in the middle of
the stream,” he said. “In case we do flounder into any of them just
fling yourself from the saddle, keeping hold of the pommel. Then let
the ponies do the rest and they will land you safe and sound.”

For the first few yards all went well. The water came up to the
ponies’ withers, but it did not appear to get deeper. Ralph was just
congratulating himself that they would get across with ease and safety
if things continued that way when his pony suddenly floundered into a
deep hole. Instantly it lost its footing and went clear under.

Ralph had not time to extricate his feet from the stirrups, and was
carried with it. As he vanished from view under the turbid current an
alarmed cry broke from both Captain Atkinson and Walt Phelps.



CHAPTER XV.

A “BLANK WALL.”


“He’s drowning!” cried Walt in alarmed tones.

“It is just as I feared,” cried Captain Atkinson, “the pony struck a
water hole and————”

“Look, there’s the pony now!” cried Walt as the little animal
reappeared and began swimming for the bank.

“But where is Ralph?”

Without waiting to make any reply to Captain Atkinson, Walt suddenly
wheeled his pony. Down the stream he had seen an arm extended above the
muddy current. He knew that it was Ralph’s.

There was no hesitation in the boy’s manner as he turned his pony, and,
plunging the spurs in deep, drove him through the water. All at once
Walt and his pony floundered into the same hole that had been Ralph’s
undoing. At the same instant a sudden swirl of the current caught
Ralph, who, though half drowned, was making a brave struggle. The
momentary halt was the chance that Captain Atkinson had been looking
for.

He had followed close on Walt’s heels and now, while the latter was
struggling to maintain a hold on his swimming pony, the captain of the
Rangers uncoiled his lariat.

Swish! It shot out in a long rolling coil and fell fairly about the
shoulders of the struggling Ralph Stetson. Although half choked into
insensibility with the water he had swallowed, Ralph still maintained
enough sense to grasp the rawhide while Captain Atkinson drew it tight.

When the coil was fast the captain backed his pony upstream until Ralph
had been dragged to shallow water. Then he pulled him out and laid him
on the bank, gasping and almost drowned. In the meantime Walt Phelps
had succeeded in extricating himself from his perilous position, and
he and his pony, drenched through and dripping, arrived on the bank
almost at the same time as Ralph was dragged ashore.

Captain Atkinson had some simple remedies in his kit and he applied
these to Ralph, who was soon able, as he put it, “to sit up and take
notice.” As he did so the stumbling pony, which had been the cause of
all the trouble, came up and sniffed at his master curiously.

“Well, Spot–nose,” said Ralph, using the name he had given the little
beast, “you almost caused me to find a watery grave.”

The pony whinnied as if to show that he was sorry and was willing to
apologize. This view of the circumstance made them all laugh. By this
time Captain Atkinson had a roaring fire going, by the side of which
they dried themselves, and there was soon a decidedly more cheerful
tone to the party.

“It makes me shiver, though, when I think of that narrow escape,” said
Ralph as they prepared to continue their journey.

“That is just an incident of life here on the Border,” declared Captain
Atkinson. “It’s such things as those that make a man or a boy know that
there is a divine Providence watching over us. No man who has lived
on the desert or at sea doubts that there is a watchful eye upon us,
saving by seeming miracles from disaster and death.”

“That is so,” agreed Walt soberly, “I’ve often heard my father say that
the best cure for religious doubts is to have a man come out here on
the Borderland. He says that heaven and earth are closer here than in
the cities or in the more civilized portions of the country.”

They rode on, following the branch of the Rio, tracing, although they
did not at the time know it, the course of the runaway raft on which
Jack had made his wild trip.

It was late that afternoon that they came to the falls that thundered
down into the Pool of Death.

Awe–struck by the wild and gloomy majesty of the scene, not one of the
party spoke for a time. It was Walt who broke the silence, shouting
above the mighty roaring of the falls.

“Can Jack have gone over this cataract and lived?” he said.

Captain Atkinson shook his head gloomily.

“It looks bad,” he said. “If the boy was plunged over such a place only
one of those miracles of which we spoke awhile back can have saved his
life.”

“How can we reach the foot of the falls?” asked Ralph in a quavery tone.

The sublimity of the scene and its suggestion of ruthless power and
pitiless force had overawed him.

“We must look about for a way,” declared Captain Atkinson, “at any rate
we won’t turn back till we know, or at least are reasonably certain,
of Jack’s fate.”

For some time they searched about the summit of the steep cliffs
surrounding the Pool of Death without coming on any path or series of
ledges by which they could hope to gain the foot of the falls. But at
last Captain Atkinson halted by a rock that towered up like a pinnacle
or obelisk. It stood at the edge of the cliffs, at a spot where they
did not appear more than a hundred feet or so high.

“We might be able to get down from here,” he decided.

The boys peered over the edge of the cliff. It was perpendicular and
steep as a wall. It was hard to imagine even a fly maintaining a hold
on it.

But they knew that Captain Atkinson was not the man to speak without
reason, and so they respectfully waited for him to continue.

“I estimate the height of this cliff at a trifle under one hundred
feet,” he said, “therefore we have a means of getting to the bottom.”

“I don’t see how,” rejoined Ralph.

“My boy, you will never make a Ranger if you can’t make the best of a
situation,” said Captain Atkinson in a tone of mild reproof. “We have
the three lariats. Their united length is one hundred and twenty feet.
That will allow us a chance to knot some sticks into the united ropes
and thus make a sort of rope ladder. We can secure it ’round this
spindle–shaped rock and so reach the foot of the falls without much
difficulty.”

The boys hailed the idea with enthusiasm, Ralph saying:

“Well, I am a chucklehead. Why on earth didn’t I think of that?”

“Because you’re not a full–fledged Texas Ranger,” laughed Walt. “I
guess there’s more to being a Ranger than we thought.”

“I guess there is,” agreed Ralph contritely.

The three ropes were fetched from the saddles and one long one made out
of them. Then stout sticks were knotted in at long intervals so as to
form a rough kind of ladder.

“Now, then,” said Captain Atkinson, when he had fastened the rope about
the obelisk–shaped rock, “I will go first and test it.”

“Would it not be better if one of us, who are lighter, took your
place?” asked Ralph, unwilling to see the daring Texas Ranger risk his
life.

“No. It is my duty to go first. If it will bear me, it will bear you.”

So saying, Captain Atkinson began that thrilling descent. The boys,
lying flat, with their heads extended over the rim of the Pool of
Death, watched him till he reached the ground. They could not restrain
a cheer when they saw that the feat had been accomplished in safety. In
response Captain Atkinson waved his hand up to them.

“Now, boys, it is your turn,” he cried encouragingly.

After a moment’s argument, for each wished the other to have the honor
of going first, Ralph was persuaded to make the descent. He reached the
ground safely, and was soon standing beside Captain Atkinson. Then came
Walt’s turn, after which the three adventurers were united.

“What an awful place!” shuddered Ralph, glancing about him nervously.

“Yes, let us be pushing on. It is high time we—Great heavens, look
here!”

The captain had stopped abruptly at the rock on which Jack had dried
out his dripping garments. What he had seen had been the ashes of the
fire the lad had kindled.

“Some one has lit a fire here,” cried Ralph as he, too, saw the embers.

“Yes, and not long ago, either.”

Captain Atkinson bent over and picked up a handful of the blackened
embers, examining them carefully.

“This fire is not over forty–eight hours old,” he exclaimed in a voice
that fairly shook with suppressed excitement.

“And that means that Jack has————”

“In some miraculous way been swept over those falls and survived. Let
us press on at once. Before dark we may have him with us again.”

At these words new life seemed to course through the veins of the two
exhausted young Rangers. They plucked up energy and courage from the
captain’s manner.

“Forward,” cried their leader, plunging into the narrow passage which
we have seen Jack traverse.

Entering the valley, they had hardly gotten over the first shock of
their surprise at its extent and formation when the keen eyes of
Captain Atkinson discovered the figure of the Mexican.

“What can this mean?” he exclaimed. “Yonder is a man watching us. Let
us go up to him at once and find out what this means; perhaps Jack has
found friends; perhaps the valley is inhabited.”

It was a moment later that the scene of recognition which we have
described took place.

“How came you here, señors?” demanded the Mexican, who, seemingly, was
the first to recover his self–possession.

For reply Captain Atkinson whipped out his revolver with incredible
swiftness and leveled it at the fellow’s head.

“Speak the truth, Alvarez,” he snapped, “or it will be the worse for
you. Where is Jack Merrill?”

“If you mean the boy who was dashed over the falls with me,” was the
reply, “he has gone.”

“Gone?”

“Si, señor.”

“Where?”

“Quien sabe.”

“Answer me quick, Alvarez.”

The brow of Captain Atkinson puckered angrily, his countenance grew
dark.

“It is as I say, señor. What object would I have in lying to you? The
boy climbed yonder cliff but this minute and has vanished.”

Although they would have liked to disbelieve the fellow’s story, and
incredible as it seemed that a human being could have climbed that
cliff, there was an unmistakable ring of sincerity in the man’s tone;
it was impossible to make light of his tale.

“Boys, we have run against a blank wall,” spoke Captain Atkinson at
length, with heavy anxiety in his tone.

“Do you think Jack is safe?” breathed Ralph.

“Heaven, in whose power he is, alone knows,” was the earnest rejoinder.



CHAPTER XVI.

LOST IN THE BURNING DESERT.


Jack’s first thought when he rose to his feet had been, as we know, to
signal the Mexican whom he had left behind him, and try to assure him
by sign language that he would do all in his power to bring rescuers
to the valley. Not that the boy had any particular affection for the
swarthy Alvarez; but naturally, with his warm, forgiving temperament,
he hated the idea of leaving a fellow being behind without hope of
succor.

But the dark shadows of evening hid the valley from him, and the boy
was forced to set forward without having had a chance to signal the
Mexican, or to witness a scene that would have interested him in an
extraordinary degree, namely, the arrival of his chums and Captain
Atkinson.

Naturally enough, the first thing that Jack did when he found himself
at the top of the dread precipice was to look about him and see what
kind of country it was into which he had fallen, or rather, climbed.
While it was rapidly growing dark in the valley below, the sun still
shone brightly on the heights above, although the luminary of day was
not far from the horizon.

So far as Jack could see, the country round about was not dissimilar in
the main from that across the Border. It was a rolling country, grown
with bunch grass and here and there a ghostly–looking yucca stretching
its gaunt arms out against the sky. As far as the eye could reach this
sort of country extended, except that in the distance was a purplish
mass of what might have been either mountains or low–lying clouds.

But to the boy’s dismay there was not a sign of a human dwelling, nor
of anything to indicate that life existed in that dreary plain.

“Gracious,” thought Jack, “this is really serious. I feel weak for want
of food and I’m thirsty enough to drink a well dry. Surely, there must
be some human beings in the vicinity. At least I’ll not give up hope.”

With a great sigh the boy struck out toward the east. He chose this
direction because he thought it was as good as any other, and not for
any particular reason. He trudged pluckily on across arid, rocky plains
till the sun sank in a blaze of copper and gold behind his back.

It was then, and not till then, that Jack gave way. He flung himself
down despairingly on the hot ground under the cheerless arms of a huge
yucca.

“What is to become of me?” he cried in a dismayed tone. “What shall I
do? Evidently this part of the country is good for neither ranching or
mining, and is uninhabited. I might tramp on for days without finding a
soul to help me. Am I doomed to end my life in this dreary place?”

These and a hundred other gloomy thoughts flitted through the boy’s
mind as, utterly exhausted and unnerved, he lay on the ground beneath
the yucca. What were his chums doing? he wondered. No doubt by this
time a search party had been organized to seek for him, but Jack
owned, with a sinking of the heart, that it was beyond the range of
possibilities, almost, that they should ever find the Pool of Death and
the secret valley.

“No,” he owned with bitter resignation, “my bones will bleach in this
God–forgotten place, and none will ever know my fate.”

Then he thought of his home and his father, the stalwart ranchman, and
tears welled up in his eyes and a great lump rose in his throat.

“Oh, it’s hard to have to die like this,” he moaned, “and yet there
is nothing to be done. True, I may live for a day or two yet. I can
start out again to–morrow morning and go on stumbling along till I drop
exhausted.”

It was at this bitter moment that a sudden recollection of a favorite
saying of his father’s came into the boy’s mind: “Never give up while
you’ve a kick left in you.”

Jack thought of the bluff ranchman as the saying came back to him with
poignant force.

“Never give up while you’ve a kick left in you.”

“For shame, Jack Merrill,” he said half aloud, “for shame, to be giving
up this way. You’ve a kick left in you, many of them perhaps. What
would your dad say if he saw you sitting down like a girl or a baby and
giving in before you had to? Don’t you dare to do it again.”

Having thus scolded himself, Jack felt somewhat better, though there
was still the great dread of a death in the desert upon him. But at
least some of his spirit had returned. He resolved to struggle on as
soon as he was sufficiently rested.

With this determination in his mind, the boy tried to compose himself
for sleep. He knew that a good spell of slumber would refresh him
almost as much as food or drink. Thus he unconsciously echoed the
sentiments of the philosopher who declared that “He who sleeps, dines.”

At any rate, the practical Jack Merrill wished to be at his best
when he started off once more on his wanderings, so he laid down and
composed himself as comfortably as he could. Strange as it may seem
that he could sleep under such conditions, slumber he did, although all
sorts of wild dreams beset his rest. At one moment he was toiling over
a burning desert under a pitiless sun, calling aloud for water. Then
again he was in the shade of a delightful group of trees while bright
crystal springs flashed and rippled. He was dreaming that he felt
the delightful cooling sensation of a cold plunge into one of these
rivulets when he awoke with a start.

Above him the stars glittered coldly. The yuccas, like grim sentinels,
outstretched their gaunt, semaphore–like arms against the night sky. A
breeze that seemed chilly after the heat of the day swept the dismal
plain. The sensation of coming from that dream of cool green places to
that dry, desolate, stony waste gave Jack a fresh shock; but, true to
his determination to act as he knew his father would wish him to do,
he shook off his gloomy depression and struck out once more toward the
east, taking his direction from the North Star, which he sighted by
means of the “pointers” in the Dipper.

As he strode forward the poor boy whistled “Marching Thro’ Georgia”
to keep up his spirits. But the tune soon wavered and died out. His
lips were too dry and cracked to make whistling anything but a painful
process. Thereafter he trudged along in silence. Soon a rosy flush
appeared in the east, and before long the sun rushed up and it was a
new day.

But to Jack the coming of the sun meant fresh disappointment. He had
hoped that with daylight he might perceive some house, however rough,
or at least a road he could follow. But none appeared. He mounted to
the highest bit of rocky land he could find in the vicinity in the hope
that the elevation might aid him in surveying the country.

It did give him a wider outlook, it is true, but the extended range of
vision brought no glad tidings of civilization to the boy. Nothing but
that same dreary expanse of brush, yuccas, sand and rocks met his eye.

Jack set his teeth grimly. He faced the truth now squarely and without
flinching. Unless by some miracle a human being came that way he was
doomed. There was no evading the fact. Already his thirst had passed
the uncomfortable stage and had become a mad craving for water.

He tried cutting the yucca stalks and extracting some moisture from
them. But though they yielded some acrid juice, it did little to
assuage his pangs. It was about a mile from the spot where he had
mounted the little hill that Jack’s collapse came. For some time
before he had been certain that his mind was acting strangely. He was
distinctly conscious of another self, a second Jack Merrill walking by
his side. He talked wildly to this visionary being. His talk was like
the ravings of a boy in a high fever.

So weak had he become that the last mile had taken more than an hour
to traverse. Hardly conscious of what he was doing, the boy had toiled
doggedly on. But as the sun grew higher his strength grew less. At last
his knees fairly buckled under him and he sank down in that stony,
sun–bitten place, utterly incapable of further locomotion.

“It is the end,” he muttered, through scorched and blackened lips, as
he sank, “oh, great heavens, it is the end!”

The sun beat pitilessly down on his form as it lay there in that
shadeless expanse. Tiny lizards darted in and out among the scanty,
dusty brush and glanced speculatively at him with their tiny bright
eyes.

High in the burning blue vault of the sky a buzzard paused in its
ceaseless wheelings, and, gazing down, saw that motionless form. By the
magic that summons these birds of prey the sky above Jack’s still form
was soon filled with them.

For a time they swung round and round; but gradually the boldest, from
mere dots high in the air, became great black–winged birds with foul
looking heads of bare red flesh and hideous curved beaks. First one
and then another dropped to the ground a short distance from the boy’s
form.

They hopped in a curious flopping fashion about him.

“Was the boy dead?” That was the question that they asked themselves as
they eyed his still form with greedy, deep–set eyes.



CHAPTER XVII.

TWO MEN OF THE AIR.


The news that all their trouble had gone for naught, and that Jack
had himself placed his rescue beyond their hands, struck the three
newcomers to the valley dumb for an instant. But at last Captain
Atkinson spoke:

“Of course, you have not forgotten me, Alvarez?”

“That is hardly likely, señor capitan,” rejoined Alvarez, a slight
smile playing across his swarthy features; “one does not forget such
encounters as our last one.”

“So I perceive. But this time you will not escape so easily. You are to
consider yourself my prisoner.”

The Mexican shrugged his shoulders.

“I am not in a position to attempt to escape,” he said resignedly.

“How did you come to be in this valley with Jack Merrill?” was the next
question.

Alvarez, who doubtless saw that his best course was to tell the truth,
launched into a fairly accurate account of the adventures on the
raft, and the thrilling descent into the Pool of Death. Ralph Stetson
shuddered as he listened. Walt looked almost incredulous. It seemed
hard to believe that any human being could have “shot” that awful
cataract and lived.

By this time it was dark, and, as it would have been too dangerous to
attempt using the improvised rope ladder at night, Captain Atkinson
decided to camp where they were. Alvarez was not bound, as his captors
deemed it impossible for him to escape. Instead, he sat around the fire
with them, and to anyone not knowing the circumstances he appeared more
like a friend or a member of the party than an alien prisoner.

But they had not counted on the wily ways of the ex–cattle rustler.
Even Captain Atkinson, old plainsman as he was, was completely taken in
by the seeming resignation of Alvarez to his fate. For this reason no
guard was placed on the man that night. This Captain Atkinson was to
regret bitterly some hours later, for, when day dawned, there was no
sign of Alvarez.

The Ranger guessed the truth at once. Alvarez had overheard their talk
about the rope ladder and the ponies which had been left tethered in
the grass at the falls. There was not the slightest doubt that he had
made use of the ladder in the night, and helped himself to one of the
ponies. If he had not taken all three they would be lucky, thought the
captain.

The boys were anxious to set off in pursuit of the escaped prisoner at
once, but Captain Atkinson made them prepare and eat a scanty breakfast
first.

“Alvarez must be miles away by this time,” he said, “that is, provided
he made the climb in safety.”

After breakfast no time was lost in striking out for the falls. The
ladder was just as they had left it, except that one of the cross
sticks had snapped, showing that someone must have climbed it in the
darkness and missed his footing.

“We are at least fortunate that he left the ladder,” said Captain
Atkinson. “I had a half–formed fear that he would have destroyed it.”

“Surely he would not have done such a dastardly thing as that!”
exclaimed Walt.

“All is fair in love and war, you know,” rejoined the Captain with a
smile, “and Alvarez is at war with us.”

“I’m not bothering so much about him,” said Ralph with a sigh, “in
fact, I think it was good riddance of bad rubbish to lose him. It’s
poor Jack I’m worrying about.”

“Let us hope that he has found his way to a settlement and that by this
time he is on his way back to camp,” said Captain Atkinson cheerfully.
“Why, it’s even possible that he may get there ahead of us.”

The cheery tones of their leader greatly heartened both the lads and
the climb up the ladder was made in good spirits. As soon as they
reached the surface they hurried to where the ponies had been tethered.
Walt and Jack’s animals were both there, but the captain’s had gone.
Pinned to one of the saddles was a hastily scribbled note on a bit of
paper seemingly torn from an old account book.

Captain Atkinson unfolded this missive and read it aloud. It was in
Spanish, but he translated as he went along.

  “Dear Señor Capitan:

 “Thank you very much for your consideration in leaving me a pony and
 allowing me a chance to get out of that odious valley. Adios; possibly
 we may meet again; till which time I am your devoted servant and
 humble admirer.

  “ALVAREZ.”

“Well,” laughed the captain, “that’s a characteristic bit of Mexican
writing. A man steals your horse and breaks his parole and then signs
himself ‘your devoted servant.’”

“What’s to be done now?” asked Walt.

“We shall have to take turns riding the remaining ponies double. It
will make our progress slow, but it is the only thing to be done. Let
us lose no more time but saddle up and get started at once.”

This was done; and half an hour later the three travelers had left
beyond ear–shot the sound of the falls that thundered unceasingly into
the Pool of Death.

       *       *       *       *       *

The boldest of the unclean birds that surrounded Jack’s unconscious
form were quite close to him when in the air above, where some others
were still wheeling about before descending, there came a sudden
disturbance and flapping of wings. High above the highest of the
circling buzzards was what at first appeared to be merely a larger bird
of prey. But a second glance would have shown that besides size, this
new winged creature possessed many other points of difference from
the bird creation. Behind it streaked out a long trail of blue smoke,
and it could be seen that seated in it, between the wings, were the
figures of two men. It was, in fact, an aeroplane of the biplane type,
powerfully engined and commissioned by the Mexican government for use
as a scout ship to spy out the haunts of the rebels.

Its two occupants were Lieut. José Sancho and Lieut. Manuel Diaz of
the Mexican army. They had been flying since daybreak, scouting the
country thoroughly in search of information of the rebels’ whereabouts.
The great flock of buzzards had attracted their attention, and Lieut.
Sancho, who was at the wheel, while his comrade scanned the country
through field glasses, had steered the airship in the direction of the
great birds.

“Can you see anything?” he asked Lieut. Diaz as the airship drove in
among the birds, scaring them off with hoarse cries.

“Yes. There is something on the ground.”

“It must be some dead animal. No human being could have found his way
into this miserable desert.”

Lieut. Sancho was about to put the airship on its course once more when
his brother officer gave a startled exclamation.

“By the saints!” he exclaimed, “this is strange.”

“What do you mean?”

“Why, what attracted those buzzards was no dead steer or horse.”

“What then was it?”

“The figure of a boy or a man lying face downward.”

“Is he dead, do you think?”

“It is impossible to tell.”

“Shall we descend and see?”

“We might as well, although, to speak the truth, I can’t conceive that
anyone could have wandered into this desert and lived.”

“Nor I. Still it is our duty to find out.”

“Undoubtedly. Let us land on that little hillock yonder and then we can
make an examination.”

Down swooped the great airship, landing without a jar on the bare
little hill Lieut. Diaz had mentioned.

As soon as the craft touched the ground the two Mexican officers were
out of it, and, after attending to the motor, hastened over the sandy
soil to Jack’s side.

“_Santa Maria!_ It is but a boy,” exclaimed Lieut. Sancho as he turned
the inanimate form over.

“_Todos los Santos_, so it is. A fine–looking fellow, too. But is
there any trace of life in him?”

For answer Lieut. Sancho shook his head mournfully.

“I fear we have come too late,” he said, bending over Jack to try to
catch the least flicker of life.



CHAPTER XVIII.

THE SANDSTORM.


His companion produced a tiny mirror, part of a pocket toilet set he
carried. Lieut. Sancho took it and held it over Jack’s lips.

“Praise the saints, there is still life in him. See!”

He held up the mirror for his companion’s inspection. It was blurred
faintly, showing that the boy was still breathing.

“Get the emergency outfit,” was the next order of the young Mexican
officer, and his companion soon produced the required kit from a box
under the seat of the military biplane.

The kit was the same as used by the armies of most civilized nations.
It contained, besides bandages and antiseptics for wounds, stimulants
and other drugs. Forcing Jack’s lips open, the lieutenant gave him
some stimulant, and was rewarded before long by a faint stirring on the
part of the boy.

He redoubled his efforts to revive him, and soon had the satisfaction
of seeing the boy’s eyes open and stare wildly about him. Not more
than ten minutes later Jack was sipping a cup of water and explaining,
between gulps, how he came to be in such a predicament. The officers
listened with interest and nodded appreciatively as the boy told his
story.

“This Alvarez is one of the most dangerous of the revolutionaries,”
declared Lieut. Sancho. “Since President Madero’s accession he has kept
things in the province stirred up in constant turmoil.”

“His presence in this part of the country shows that the rebel troops
cannot be far off,” struck in Lieut. Diaz, “so that we have to thank
our young friend here for some valuable information.”

“And I have to thank you for my life,” exclaimed Jack warmly. “I don’t
know how to thank you.”

“By consenting, if you feel strong enough, to take a ride with us in
our aeroplane. What you told us about Alvarez makes me anxious to be
off as soon as possible. If he is still in that valley we can capture
him, and that will be a crushing blow to the revolutionaries.”

Jack had seen aeroplanes before, but never at as close range as this
military one. It was painted a dark olive, with wings of a dull gray
color, the object being to make it as inconspicuous as possible. It had
a powerful six–cylinder motor and was driven by twin propellers. It was
built to carry two, but there was room on a folding seat for a third
passenger. Jack was told to occupy this extra seat and then Lieut.
Sancho and his comrade climbed on board.

“Hold tight!” cried Lieut. Sancho as he started his engine.

Steady as Jack’s nerves usually were, he felt rather alarmed at the
uproar that ensued. From the exhaust pipes of the motor smoke and flame
shot viciously. The slender fabric of the aeroplane shook tremulously
as the pulsations of the mighty engine racked its frame.

But suddenly another sound broke in—a sound that Jack had heard too
often before not to recognize it instantly.

It was the song of a bullet—the long drawn ze–e–e–ee of a rifle
projectile.

The two officers were as swift to hear the sound as Jack. Glancing up,
the three beheld simultaneously a body of horsemen sweeping down on
them from a range of barren–looking hills in the distance. As they rode
they fired till a perfect fusilade of bullets was whistling around the
aeroplane.

They were a wild–looking body of men. Most of them wore the sugar loaf
or cone–peaked hat of the Mestizo, and their serapes streamed out in
the breeze behind them. Dust and sweat covered their ponies, and a
great cloud of gray dust enveloped them.

“_Viva Alvarez!_” they cried as they swept on.

Lieut. Sancho saw that to resist them would be hopeless. Instead he
devoted all his efforts to starting his motor. At last, just as the
foremost of the horsemen were upon them, the aeroplane gave a jump
forward and scudded off like a live thing over the crowd.

This sudden motion of the great winged man–made bird so terrified the
ponies of the rebels, for a detachment of the revolutionists they were,
that the little creatures became uncontrollable and dashed off in every
direction. All the shouts and curses of their owners failed to rally
them, and after running a few hundred feet the aeroplane soared aloft,
unharmed except for a few bullet holes in her planes.

The sensation was a delightful one. As the bumping motion caused by
the run over the ground ceased, it felt to Jack as if he was riding
on billows of the softest cloud fabric. He had not the slightest
fear and watched Lieut. Sancho with interest while he manipulated
the various levers and wheels. As they flew the officer showed Jack
just how the air craft worked. He even let him take the wheel for
an instant, and declared that the boy acquitted himself like a born
airman. The aeroplane being fitted with stability devices of automatic
construction, it was, of course, possible to do this, where in another
sort of air machine it might have been dangerous to allow a novice to
handle the control wheel.

As they rose higher Jack cast a look back. The country was stretched
out like a panorama beneath him. On the plain he could see the
detachment of revolutionaries galloping about trying in vain to reform
their disorganized ranks.

“See if you can point out this wonderful valley of yours,” said Lieut.
Diaz presently.

Before long Jack sighted the hidden valley which had been the scene of
his thrilling climb. He recognized it by the tumbling cascade of water
that thundered whitely into the Pool of Death.

“There! There it is yonder!” he cried.

“It is indeed a wonderful place,” commented Lieut. Sancho as they
hovered like a huge eagle above the cliff–walled valley. “If one did
not know of it, it would be impossible to discover it.”

“Except by airship or by the Pool of Death,” said Jack.

Lieut. Sancho finally spied a good place to land and the aeroplane was
dropped rapidly into the valley. It settled with hardly a jar or a
quiver, much to Jack’s astonishment, who had feared it would collide
with the ground with considerable force.

“Well, I don’t see anything of your friend Alvarez,” commented Lieut.
Sancho, looking about him after they had left the aeroplane.

“Nor do I,” commented Jack in a rather astonished tone, “what can have
become of him?”

“Possibly he has escaped in some way. He is as cunning a fox as there
is in the country,” declared Lieut. Diaz.

Jack shook his head, however.

“There is no chance that he could have gotten out unless he followed my
path and I think he was not active enough for that.”

“Which way did you get out?” inquired Lieut. Diaz. “Where is that cliff
you told us about?”

Jack pointed to the frowning precipice he had scaled. The officers,
who could hardly be blamed for doubting him, gazed at the boy sharply.
But his frank, honest countenance and modest manner of telling his
story soon put their suspicions to rout, although Lieut. Diaz frankly
confessed:

“Señor, you are an American boy, and therefore tell the truth; but from
anyone else we should have laughed at the story.”

“It was nothing to laugh at, I assure you,” said Jack.

“I should imagine not,” agreed Lieut. Sancho, “one would hardly think a
fly could find footing on that place.”

“Looking up at it now,” said Jack with a laugh, “I myself begin to
doubt that I did it.”

A systematic search of the valley was begun, and of course ended
without result. One thing only was certain, Alvarez had gone. It was
a good thing possibly that Jack did not know then the manner of his
going, or what part the boy’s own friends had played in it. Had he done
so, he would have felt very downcast over the thought of by how narrow
a margin he had missed being reunited to them.

“Well,” declared Lieut. Diaz as they came to a halt near the Pool of
Death, “one thing is as certain as daylight, and that is that in some
manner Alvarez has escaped.”

“Not a doubt of it. But how?” rejoined his companion. “I confess I am
at a complete loss to understand how he effected his release.”

“Maybe another aeroplane came along and took him,” suggested Jack.
“That is the only thing I can think of.”

Entirely mystified, the two officers made arrangements for flight once
more. It had been agreed that Jack was to be landed in the Rangers’
camp, or, at any rate, close to it. The prospect of rejoining his
friends safe and sound rejoiced the boy, and he was in high spirits
when they sat down to partake of lunch before resuming flight.

They had concluded their meal when Jack noticed that there was a
peculiar look about the sky. From blue it had turned to a yellowish
tinge, and the sun glowed through it like a fiery copper ball. He drew
the attention of Lieut. Sancho to this, and the young officer and
his comrade in arms held a long consultation about the state of the
weather.

At its conclusion Lieut. Sancho announced that, although the weather
appeared threatening, yet they would go up. He explained that he and
his companion had to be back at their headquarters in time to report
the rebel attack and the near approach of the reactionary forces. If
they were to drop Jack on the way, there was no time to be lost.

The aeroplane was swiftly tuned up, and when all were on board Lieut.
Diaz, who had relieved Lieut. Sancho at the wheel, sent the big craft
up with a velocity that made Jack lose his breath. At a height of about
two hundred feet a sudden gust struck the air craft, causing it to
careen in a most alarming manner. For one dread instant it appeared to
Jack that the whole affair was doomed to turn turtle in mid–air; but
the stability devices worked just in time.

With a clicking and sliding sound the parts that composed the balancing
power of the machine slipped into their places and it resumed an even
keel.

As if to show his perfect mastery of the military dirigible, Lieut.
Diaz drove it straight up toward the overcast sky. A fairly stiff wind
was now beginning to blow, and to Jack the maneuver appeared risky
in the extreme. But, of course, he said nothing, although, looking
downward, earth looked fearfully remote. But to the two Mexican
officers all this was evidently part of the day’s work. At all events,
neither of them displayed the least anxiety; on the contrary, Lieut.
Sancho was busy noting the action of the barograph and barometer, and
jotting down the results of his observations in a small notebook.

All at once Jack, on glancing down, discovered that the earth had been
obliterated. A yellow fog, or it seemed to be fog, hid the surface of
the country from them. All at once something stinging struck the boy’s
face. It was sand.

With a gasp of alarm Jack realized that a sandstorm was raging below
them. He recalled the one near La Hacheta, in which the lads had seen
the flight of the ghostly camels. Seriously alarmed, he drew the
attention of his companions to what was going on. By this time, so
rapidly had the velocity of the wind increased that it was blowing
half a gale, great clouds of sand swept bewilderingly round them. The
aeroplane pitched and swayed like a ship in an angry sea. Jack held on
tight, thinking that every moment would be likely to be his last.

“We did wrong to come up so high,” admitted Lieut. Diaz.

“But you are going higher?” objected Jack.

“Yes. We must avoid that sand at all hazards. It won’t be so bad higher
up, I hope.”

“Why not drop to earth right now? It’s all flat country hereabouts,”
said Jack.

“In the first place, the sand would blind us and we would crash to
earth and be wrecked, in all probability. In the second place, if
even a little sand got into our engine it would ruin it,” rejoined the
officer.

Jack said no more. He felt rather ashamed, in fact, of having showed
his agitation so plainly. After all, the officers knew far more about
aeroplanes than he did, and perhaps there was a chance that they would
get through safely yet, He fervently prayed that they might.

Lieut. Diaz sat grimly at the wheel, driving the aeroplane ever upward.
Jack watched him admiringly. Not a trace of fear or of any other
emotion had flickered across his steadfast countenance since the battle
with the storm had begun.

They had driven their way far above the yellow sand fog and were
battling with the wind at an altitude of almost seven thousand feet,
when Lieut. Diaz gave a sudden gasp. He turned deadly pale and lurched
forward in his seat. Had not Lieut. Sancho caught him, he would have
toppled off into space. The aeroplane, released from a controlling
hand, gave a sickening dash downward.

“Wha–what has happened?” gasped Jack, genuinely alarmed now.

“It’s air sickness! Seize that controlling handle and do just as I tell
you. All our lives may depend on it!”



CHAPTER XIX.

THE BATTLE AT THE SCHOOLHOUSE.


Air sickness! With the words there flashed through Jack’s mind a
recollection of having read somewhere about that strange malady of the
upper regions which sometimes seizes airmen, paralyzing temporarily
their every faculty.

While the thought was still in his mind he had seized the wheel and
awaited the next orders from Lieut. Sancho, who was holding the
unconscious form of Lieut. Diaz in the machine.

“Push that lever forward—so! Now a twist of your wheel to the left.
_Bueno!_ You are a born airman.”

Jack wished he could think so, too. From sheer nervousness the sweat
stood out upon him, his hands shook and his pulses throbbed.

But the consciousness that all their lives depended upon his keeping
cool and obeying orders steadied him. By a supreme effort he mastered
his jumping nerves and obeyed the lieutenant’s orders implicitly.

To his actual surprise, for he did not think it would have been so
easy to handle an air craft, the winged machine righted itself as he
manipulated the lever and wheel. Before many seconds it was driving
along on an even keel once more. But in its fall it had entered
the region of driving sand again. Pitilessly, like needle–pointed
hailstones, the sharp grains drove about them, pricking their flesh.

“Up! We must go up higher!” cried Lieut. Sancho. “Pull back that lever.
Now your wheel to the right—that sets the rising warping appliances!
There! That’s it! Now your foot on the engine accelerator! Good! You
are an aviator already.”

As Jack put the lieutenant’s commands into execution one after another
the desired effect was procured. The aeroplane began to rise, fighting
its way up through that inferno of yellow sand. Jack feared that at any
moment his eyes would be rendered useless, but he stuck to his task
without flinching.

At last in the upper regions, they winged along free from the ordeal of
the whirling sand spouts, but still in the grasp of the furious wind.

“Can we not land?” asked Jack after a time. “Surely it would be safer.”

“Safer, doubtless, once we could get to earth; but it would be madness
to attempt a landing in this wind.”

“Then we must stay up here till the wind subsides?”

“Yes, or at least until the sand thins out. We should be blinded if we
got into the thick of it, let alone the danger to our engine.”

“What speed are we making?” was Jack’s next question.

“About fifty miles an hour, possibly more.”

“Then we may be driven miles out of our way?”

“I fear that is possible. But see, Lieut. Diaz appears to be reviving.
Can you reach me that medical kit?”

Jack, not without being fearful of the consequences of his taking one
hand from the controlling devices, did so. Luckily, as we know, the
aeroplane was equipped with the latest stability devices, making her
comparatively steady compared to the older fashioned craft of the air.
Jack’s maneuver, therefore, was not so risky as might have been thought.

While the aeroplane bucked and plunged its way through the storm Lieut.
Sancho administered stimulants to Lieut. Diaz, who presently began to
recover from his spell of air sickness almost as rapidly as he had been
“taken down” with it. It is a peculiarity of such seizures, in fact,
that they are not of long duration. Some authorities have held that
there are poisoned strata in the air which cause the sickness and on
emerging from them the victim becomes well again. However that may be,
Lieut. Diaz was soon himself, and Jack was relieved at the wheel by
Lieut. Sancho.

“How far do you imagine we have been driven?” he asked as the officer
took the wheel.

“That is impossible to say, _amigo_ Jack. I directed you while you were
in control of the ship so that as far as possible we should maneuver in
circles. Judging by that, we ought not to be much more than fifty miles
or so out of our way.”

This was cheering news to Jack, who had begun to imagine that they had
been driven half way to the Gulf of Mexico at least. As this would
have meant a lot of delay in rejoining his comrades, he was naturally
worried. For an hour or so more they swung in circles above the storm,
and then the furious gale began to lessen.

As the wind fell the sand “fog” below began to melt away just as if it
had actually been mist. Its dissolving brought a view of a stretch of
country not unlike that in which the Rangers had been camped when Jack
had last seen them.

Below them shone the river between its precipitous banks, and on one
side of it Jack could see a small, rough–looking settlement. On the
outskirts was a low red building, the shape and form of which at once
showed it to be a schoolhouse, even if the Stars and Stripes had not
been floating on a pole before the door. The aeroplane was still
hovering in the air above the little settlement when the schoolhouse
door opened and out rushed teacher and pupils in evident excitement.
They gazed upward at the winged man–bird in a state of the greatest
wonderment.

Suddenly from across the river came a perfect tempest of shots and
yells. Looking down, Jack saw that a body of horsemen was galloping
for dear life toward the ford at the river. Close behind them came
some more mounted men, although the latter were dressed in uniforms,
suggesting that they were regulars. Evidently they were in pursuit of
the ragged–looking Mestizos who were making for the ford.

On they came at a furious gallop. Gazing from above, Lieut. Sancho
announced that the band being pursued was a band of rebels, while
the men in pursuit were part of the regular cavalry of the Mexican
government.

“But they are fleeing on to American soil!” exclaimed Jack.

“Si, señor Jack. Evidently the rascally rebels think that if they can
gain the protection of the Stars and Stripes they will be safe.”

Jack could not help feeling sympathy for the ragged band that was being
so remorselessly pursued, even though he knew that the rebels had
wrought all sorts of outrages, both on American soil and in their own
country. For instance, only a short time before a band of cattle had
been driven from an American ranch to feed the starving revolutionary
troops.

But such thoughts as these were soon interrupted by the boy’s absorbed
interest in the drama taking place far below them. From the town a few
men had come running at the sound of the shooting, but as they saw the
armed men come sweeping through the ford they beat a hasty retreat.
Only the school teacher, a pretty young girl, so far as Jack could see,
and her little flock stood their ground.

Having crossed the ford the pursued Mestizos did not draw rein.
Instead, they urged their ponies on still more furiously. The clatter
of their hoofs even reached to the aeroplane, which was swinging about
in the blue ether some thousands of feet above.

All at once Jack, with a quick intake of his breath, divined their
purpose. The hounded band of revolutionaries was spurring and lashing
for the schoolhouse. Their evident purpose was to seek refuge within
it, under the protection of Old Glory.

But what of the children and their young teacher? In case there should
be firing, their position would be a terrible one. As the first of the
rebel band dashed into the schoolhouse enclosure and the teacher and
her pupils fled within in terror, Jack begged Lieut. Sancho to descend.

“In case the Federals open fire on the schoolhouse many of those
children will be killed,” he cried anxiously.

Lieut. Sancho nodded.

“I doubt if we can be of much use,” he said, “but at any rate we will
drop down and see what can be done.”

The aeroplane instantly began to descend, but before it was half way
down the last of the refugees had dashed into the schoolhouse, and the
door was slammed to and bolted. The Federals, close on the fugitives’
heels, withdrew to a short distance for a parley when they perceived
this. From the schoolhouse windows a few scattering shots followed
them, but none of them took effect.

But the men who had done the shooting had perceived the approach of the
aeroplane, which was now quite close to the ground. It was probably
the first they had ever seen and they gazed at it with awe and some
superstitious terror.

“What do you want?” called one of them.

“What shall we tell them?” Lieut. Sancho whispered to Jack.

“Tell them to let the teacher and her scholars out of there at once or
we will dynamite the place,” replied Jack without hesitation.

“I’ll tell them that if they don’t, we shall drop a bomb from the
aeroplane,” whispered the lieutenant.

“That’s a good idea. Let’s hope it will scare them into releasing the
children and their teacher.”

Lieut. Sancho shouted his ultimatum at the men at the schoolhouse
windows, at the same time leaning down as if to pick up some sort
of weapon. Doubtless the unfamiliarity of such a war machine as an
aeroplane had something to do with it; but at any rate, after some
anxious deliberation, during which the aeroplane hovered at closer
range, the door was opened and the teacher and her little flock emerged.

“Now run to the town. Run for your lives,” cried Jack as they came out,
and the pretty girl and her pupils were not slow to obey the injunction.

In the meantime the Federals, withdrawn to a little distance, had
viewed the operations with amazement. They had been too much excited by
the chase to notice the aeroplane till it was at close range. Now they
gazed at it with wonder and then broke into a cheer. At first Jack was
astonished at this enthusiasm, but then he suddenly recollected that
inscribed on the machine’s upper and lower planes were the arms of the
Mexican Republic.

“Viva! Viva, Madero!” yelled the regulars, as the aeroplane swung above
them.

“What are you going to do with those rascals in the schoolhouse?”
yelled down Lieut. Sancho to the officer in charge of the Federals as
the great winged machine sailed majestically by over their heads.

“Assault the place and capture it,” was the reply.

“You forget that it is on American territory and that our government
will be liable for any outrages inflicted on this side of the Border,”
was the rejoinder. “I will guarantee to get them out of there in far
more peaceable fashion.”

“Very well, señor lieutenant, as you will,” was the reply of the
officer, given with a shrug of the shoulders.

“Well, I wonder what’s going to happen now?” thought Jack as the
aeroplane was headed back at top speed for the schoolhouse.

“Diaz, will you do me the favor to get that round black bottle out of
the medicine kit?” said Lieut. Sancho in calm tones as he guided the
air craft toward the stronghold and retreat of the rebel force.



CHAPTER XX.

WHERE STRATEGY WON OUT.


Their coming was viewed by a dozen swarthy faces thrust out of the
schoolhouse windows. As the aeroplane drew near the building Lieut.
Sancho raised his voice above the humming of the engine.

In a loud authoritative tone he called for attention.

“If that schoolhouse is not vacated inside of five minutes,” he snapped
out, “I shall dynamite it.”

A derisive chorus of yells greeted this, although a few voices could be
heard begging the officer to have mercy.

“Hand me that ‘bomb,’ Diaz,” ordered the officer as the aeroplane came
in full view of the schoolhouse.

Seizing this opportunity, Lieut. Sancho manipulated the air craft with
one hand while he apparently examined the “bomb” with deep attention.
He took good care while doing this to handle it so that it might be
plainly seen by the Mestizos.

The aeroplane continued its flight above the schoolhouse roof, and
then, swinging round, was driven back again. As they came over for the
second time Lieut. Sancho hailed the recalcitrants once more.

“Throw your rifles and weapons out of the windows or I’ll drop the
bomb. The five minutes is almost up.”

This time there was no answer but a sullen roar. Apparently the
occupants of the schoolhouse were quarreling among each other. The
aeroplane was flown a short distance and then turned for another flight
toward the schoolhouse.

“Here, take the wheel, Diaz,” ordered Lieut. Sancho. “I’m going to let
them see that we mean business.”

With Lieut. Diaz at the wheel, his brother officer manipulated the
“bomb” in truly alarming manner. Bending low over it and striking a
match, he appeared to light its fuse. Then, holding on to a brace, he
half rose out of his seat, and as they neared the schoolhouse he raised
his arm as if poising the “bomb” before hurling it.

It was too much for the nerves of the besieged. With wild cries to
Lieut. Sancho not to kill them, they began casting their rifles and
revolvers out of the windows in a perfect hail. Lieut. Sancho appeared
to stay his hand, but was still menacing.

“Todos! Todos!” (“All! All!”)

He shouted this as they thundered close above the schoolhouse roof. As
he did so the schoolhouse door was opened and out rushed the terrified,
demoralized Mestizos, who were swiftly made prisoners by the Federals
without their offering more than a nominal resistance.

By the time the last had been captured, while the aeroplane drew close
to the scene, from the town, whence the proceedings had been watched
with interest, several citizens came running, now that all the danger
of bullets seemed to be past.

“Well, after what I’ve seen,” declared Jack, “never tell me that the
aeroplane isn’t any good in warfare. To–day it averted what might have
been a bloody fight, and, as it was, not a man was even scratched,
except in his feelings. By the way, Lieutenant, what was in that
‘bomb’?”

“A very deadly mixture,” laughed the officer in return, “a solution of
Epsom salts!”

“Here I be, the mayor of that thar berg back thar,” said an individual
with a bristly straw–colored mustache, hastening up. “What be all these
here connipations a–goin’ on out hyar?”

“Why, Mr. Mayor,” rejoined Jack, “these two gentlemen are officers of
the Mexican Federal troops detailed to aerial duty.”

“Waal, what be they doin’ this side of ther Border? I’ve a good mind
ter put ’em in ther calaboose, the dern long–horns,” declared the mayor
angrily.

“Inasmuch as they saved a lot of children and their teacher from rough
treatment by a band of rebels, I don’t think that would be very fair,”
said Jack.

“Humph!” grunted the mayor, “I was comin’ out hyar to git ther
mavericks on ther run myself, but I had an attack of indigestion.”

“I guess that was when you heard the shooting,” thought Jack to himself.

Aloud, though, he continued:

“The Mestizos were captured by as clever a ruse as can be imagined, Mr.
Mayor.”

“Eh, how’s that, young feller?”

“By a bottle of Epsom salts.”

“Say, see here, kid, it ain’t healthy ter git funny with yer elders in
these hyar parts.”

“It’s the exact truth, I assure you,” declared Jack smilingly, quite
ignoring the mayor’s frown. He went on to tell the full details of the
fight, or rather the argument, and when he had finished not one of the
assembled crowd was there that did not join in the laugh.

“An’ how did you come to be hyar, young feller?” asked the mayor at the
conclusion of Jack’s story. “You beant a greaser.”

“No, but I have found that there are a few brave and clever men on the
other side of the line, too,” declared Jack.

“Ther kid’s right,” assented one or two in the crowd.

Jack then told as much of his adventures as he thought necessary,
and at the conclusion the delighted mayor clapped him on the back so
heartily that the breath was almost driven out of his body.

“I’ll give yer all ther liberty of Go ’long,” he said, sweeping his
hand back toward his little principality.

But the two Mexican officers were obliged to refuse the mayor’s
hospitality. A short time after the Federal troops had departed with
their prisoners of war the two airmen winged their way southward to
their headquarters.

As for Jack, he had ascertained that San Mercedes was only twenty miles
or so off, so he determined to hire a horse and ride over there early
in the morning. That night he slept in a bed for the first time in many
long hours, and with his anxieties cleared away and his heart light,
his slumbers were deep and dreamless. He was awakened by the ubiquitous
mayor, who was also the hotel–keeper. Incidentally, the pretty school
teacher turned out to be his daughter. Her enthusiastic praises of Jack
the night before had made the boy blush hotly, but that was nothing to
his embarrassment a few moments later when the town band, consisting of
a cornet and a drum, headed a procession to the hotel and he had been
compelled to give a speech.

Jack felt glad on waking that all that was over, and that in a short
time he would be on his way back to his friends in the camp of the
Rangers. The town of Go ’long did not offer much in the way of a menu
beyond blackstrap and hot cakes, beans, bacon and black coffee, but
Jack made a hearty meal on these frontier delicacies, after which he
was informed that his pony was at the door.

His landlord, whose name, by the way, was Jerry Dolittle, refused to
take a cent from the boy, and told him that when the Rangers came that
way next his old friend, Captain Atkinson, could return him the pony.

The greater part of the population of Go ’long had accompanied Jack
about a mile on his way, but soon he was ambling along alone with
a straight road in front of him. Naturally his mind was busy with
speculations as to what had occurred in the camp during his long
absence from it.

“Good old Walt! Dear old Ralph! Won’t they be glad to see me!” he
mused as he rode along across the plains; “won’t I be glad to see them,
too! Gracious, what a lot we shall have to talk about! I won’t blame
them if they don’t believe half of it. I can hardly believe it myself
sometimes, and that’s a fact.”

Between San Mercedes and Go ’long the rough road led through one of
those peculiarly desolate ranges of hills common in that part of our
country. As Jack’s pony began to mount into the recesses of these
gloomy, barren hills, the lad knew that he had come a dozen miles or so
from the Go ’long hotel.

The road wound along the bottom of the steep, sandy gullies, which
were in some places streaked gorgeously with strata of various colors,
red, blue and bright orange. Above burned a sky of brilliant blue. It
would have made a splendid subject for the canvas of an impressionistic
painter.

Jack knew that somewhere within these hills he ought to meet the
daily stage that ran between San Mercedes and Go ’long. At least, such
had been the information given him before he set out from the latter
place. He was quite anxious to see it, as on his lonely ride he had
not encountered a human face. The solitary nature of the barren hills
through which he was now riding depressed him, too, with a sense of
remoteness and lonesomeness.

As Jack rode he commented to himself on the rugged character of the
scenery. The road, which would have hardly been dignified with the name
of a trail in the east, crawled along the side of the bare hills, in
some places overhanging gloomy canyons.

“This must be a dangerous place to drive a stage,” thought Jack as he
passed by a big rock and found himself traversing a bit of road which
bordered the edge of a mountain spur, with a precipice on one side and
a deep canyon on the other.

In fact, had the lad known it, that particular bit of road was reputed
to be about the worst even in that wild land. Should the horses make a
misstep on the trail, instant death to every occupant of the coach must
result.

There were few drivers, even the most reckless, that cared to go at
more than a snail’s pace over that stretch of road even with the
quietest team. True, the passage had been made on one occasion at
night, but that was for a wild and foolish bet and the authorities had
put a stop to any more such practices. So that Jack was not far out
when he mentally appraised that bit of road as being as dangerous and
nasty a track to negotiate as he had ever seen; and Jack had seen a
good deal of the wild southwest.

The boy had passed the dangerous bit of road and was jogging along in a
deep divide between two ranges, when he was startled by a sudden sound
right ahead of him.

It was unmistakably a shot.

A rifle shot, too, the boy judged. He spurred forward rapidly, not
knowing well just what to expect when he should round a curve in the
road just ahead.

It did flash into his mind that his landlord at Go ’long had spoken of
the coach being held up occasionally, but Jack had placed little stock
in the stories. In fact, he rather inclined to think that old Jerry was
telling them with the idea of getting a rise out of a Tenderfoot.

Still, there were a few mines in that part of the country and
occasionally gold was shipped through to Go ’long, which was not far
from the main line of the Southern Pacific Railroad.

But Jack had only made a few paces forward on his quickened mount when
three other shots rang out in rapid succession.

“Now I am perfectly sure there is trouble on the trail ahead!”
exclaimed Jack to himself, urging his pony forward at a yet faster gait.

The idea of personal danger did not enter Jack’s head, although the
scene that he beheld as he swept round the curve on his galloping pony
might well have alarmed an older hand than he.

Coming toward him at a hard gallop was the Go ’long coach. Its six
horses were in a lather of perspiration, and the coach was swaying
wildly from side to side.

From the top of the coach a fusilade was being fired at three men in
pursuit of the vehicle. These latter appeared to be returning the fire
with good will.

At almost the same moment that his eye took in these details Jack
became aware that, besides the driver of the stage, there were three
other occupants on the roof.

These were Captain Atkinson of the Rangers, Ralph Stetson and Walt
Phelps.

As he perceived all this Jack drew his pony back on his haunches and
waited whatever might turn up, for it was his determination to aid his
friends.



CHAPTER XXI.

THE STAGE HOLD–UP.


Suddenly Jack saw the driver lurch forward in his seat. Perhaps he had
been killed, perhaps he was only badly injured.

Instantly Jack’s mind was made up. Snatching off his hat, he waved it
about his head.

At the same time he turned in his saddle and yelled back down the
trail, as if a numerous band was coming round the turn:

“Come on, boys! Hurry up and we’ll get them!”

The pursuers of the coach stopped suddenly. Then they wheeled their
ponies about and dashed off at top speed. Jack’s ruse had succeeded.
Evidently the highwaymen thought that a large body of horsemen was
behind Jack. At any rate, they deemed it more prudent not to wait to
find out.

But only one serious aspect of the situation was relieved by the abrupt
departure of the highwaymen. The limp form of the coachman hung on
the box, almost toppling off the seat. The lines had dropped from his
hands and lay on the backs of the terrified wheelers. On they came,
thundering at runaway speed, while Jack hesitated, his mind full of the
thought of that dangerous bit of road that lay ahead.

He shouted up to his companions on the roof:

“Hullo, boys! I’m with you again!”

There was a yell of joy. An answer to his hail came quickly.

“Jack Merrill, by all that’s wonderful!”

“Jack! How under the sun did he get here!”

“It’s Jack on deck again as usual!”

But Jack heard none of these joyous exclamations. He had turned his
horse almost on its haunches, owing to the narrowness of the trail. In
one swift flash of inspiration he had made up his mind as to the course
he would pursue in checking the runaways.

He spurred his pony alongside the wheelers, crying out in as soothing a
tone as he could:

“Whoa, boys! Whoa, there!”

But the terrified animals paid no attention to him, nor had he much
expected that they would. He only spoke to them in order that he might
not frighten them worse when he spurred his pony alongside them.

He might have ridden in front of them, but the risk of causing them to
swerve and precipitate the whole coach from the trail was too great.
The most dangerous part of the road lay about a mile ahead. If only
he could check the team before they reached it, all might be well; if
not—well, Jack did not dare to think of what would be the consequences
in such a case. Thus began a mad, dangerous ride, a ride of grave risk
to the daring young Border Boy.

Of one thing he was thankful—the pony under him was a sure–footed,
fast little beast, and perfectly broken, a rare thing in that part of
our country. This made it possible for Jack to loop his own reins about
the saddle horn and then, leaning out of the saddle, to seize the lines
which the wounded driver had dropped.

This done, he began to pull gently on them, taking care not to terrify
the runaways further by jerking on their bits. Bracing himself in his
stirrups, Jack exerted a steady pressure on the reins, at the same time
using every means he knew of to soothe the maddened beasts.

“Good boy, Jack! Good boy!” breathed Captain Atkinson from the roof
of the coach, while he lifted the stricken stage driver to a place of
safety. “Boys, Jack will save us yet,” he added, turning to his young
companions.

“You can bet on him every time,” came admiringly from Ralph. “He’ll
conquer them yet.”

But had Ralph known of the danger place that lay not so far ahead now,
he might not have been so confident.

“Put on the brake!” Jack shouted back over his shoulder as they tore
along that dangerous trail.

“Bless my soul! Why didn’t I think of that?” exclaimed Captain Atkinson.

Handing the driver over to the care of the boys, he clambered into the
former’s seat, and, placing his foot on the heavy California–style
brake, he jammed it down with all his force.

“Good!” cried Jack as the wheels screeched and groaned.

The horses appeared more terrified than ever at the racket made by
the brake, but it was strong enough to check their speed perceptibly,
struggle as they would.

A short distance further came a little rise, beyond which lay the
dangerous spot that Jack dreaded. The rise completed what the brake had
begun.

“They’re slackening speed, Jack!” cried Captain Atkinson.

“They are, indeed!” hurled back Jack. “I think I’ll have them under
control in a jiffy.”

Jack’s words came true, but none too soon. A few seconds more and they
would have reached the curve, beyond which lay the bit of narrow road.
A thrill ran through Jack’s frame as he drew tight on the reins and
felt the tired animals slow up to a trot and then, obedient to his
voice, come to a halt, sweating and trembling, with distended nostrils.

Jack lost no time in riding round to the heads of the leaders and
holding tightly on to them. But there was little fight left in the
horses. Dragging the coach with its locked brake up that hill had
thoroughly exhausted them; they seemed glad to rest.

“Get out, boys!” shouted Jack. “Come and give me a hand to uncouple the
traces. I don’t think they’ll run again, but we won’t take chances.”

In an instant Ralph Stetson and Walt Phelps had sprung to the ground
and one on either side of the coach were running forward to help Jack
complete one of the bravest tasks a boy ever set himself to perform.

Naturally, it was not till the horses were calmed down that they had
a chance to talk. In the meantime the stage driver, whose name was
Jed Hoster, had been revived and was found to be painfully but not
seriously injured. He had been shot through the shoulder.

We are not going to relate all that took place at that odd reunion in
the heart of the Ragged Range, as the barren hills were called. Every
one of my readers can picture for himself what a confusion of tongues
reigned as the boys all tried to talk at once, and relate their many
adventures since last they had met.

After awhile the coach, with Captain Atkinson at the “ribbons” and
Jack riding close alongside, was driven to a broad part of the road and
then turned around, as San Mercedes was closer to the spot where the
attack had occurred than was Go ’long.

Captain Atkinson told the boys that he had not the least idea who the
men that made the attack could have been, but surmised that they must
have possessed information that the coach was carrying a consignment of
gold dust from a desert mine for shipment at Go ’long.

“Had it not been for your smart trick, Jack,” he declared, “we should
never have got off as easily as we did.”

A sharp lookout was kept all the way back to San Mercedes for another
sight of the would–be robbers. But nothing more was seen of them, and
the return journey was made without incident. There was much rejoicing
in the camp of the Rangers over the safe return of Jack, and even
Shorty appeared to be glad that the boy had come unscathed through so
many perils.

That was a gala night in camp. Songs and stories filled the time till
far into the night. The three boys, who possessed remarkably good
voices, sang several popular songs and were much applauded. At last
they had to stop from sheer weariness.

Each lad was anxious to go out on duty along the Rio Grande that same
evening, but Captain Atkinson sternly forbade them doing so.

“You turn into your blankets and get a good sleep,” he ordered. “I’ve
got another job on hand for you to–morrow and I want you to be fresh
when you tackle it.”

Much mystified and not a little excited at these words, the boys
obediently turned in and were soon sound asleep. They were astir bright
and early the next morning—just as the last patrol of the night was
coming in, in fact. The night had been an eventless one, they learned,
the rebels having given no sign of their presence.

Soon after breakfast Captain Atkinson approached the boys, who
were polishing up their saddles and bits, accompanied by a tall,
bronze–bearded man, whose tanned skin and keen gray eyes bespoke him a
dweller in the open places.

“This is Mr. Lionel Reeves, the rancher, of whom you may have heard,”
he said. “Mr. Reeves, these are the lads of whom I spoke to you.”

“I am sure you could not have picked better young fellows for the task
you wish accomplished,” spoke Mr. Reeves, shaking hands warmly with
each of the boys in turn. “By the way, do they know about it?”

“Not yet,” rejoined Captain Atkinson, with a smile at the eager looks
that three pairs of eyes turned on him.



CHAPTER XXII.

OFF ON A MISSION.


“Mr. Reeves lives on the Rio Grande about fifty miles from here,” went
on Captain Atkinson, while the boys listened eagerly, feeling that they
were on the verge of some fresh adventure. “He has, as you may know,
one of the biggest cattle ranches in this part of Texas. Word has been
brought to him that the rebel army of Mexico, which is hard up for
food, has planned a raid on his ranch to drive off a band of cattle.”

The boys nodded attentively, but as there was no necessity for speech
they said nothing.

“Now, then,” continued the captain of the Rangers, “most of his
punchers are off on another of his ranges rounding up stock for
shipment on a rush order. That leaves the Border ranch practically
unprotected. Mr. Reeves is an old friend of mine, and has come to
ask me for aid. I cannot spare any of my men, as I need them all to
patrol this part of the river. I have offered, subject to your consent,
of course, your services to Mr. Reeves. You will rank as Rangers
yourselves while performing patrol duty at Lagunitas Rancho. Will you
go?”

Would they? The cheer that went up was more than ample evidence that
the Border Boys fairly leaped at the chance. Captain Atkinson went on
to explain that their duties would be to watch the cattle at night and
instantly give the alarm if anything out of the way occurred.

“But mind,” he warned, with a half humorous look playing about his
mouth, “mind, you are not to get into any danger.”

“Oh, no, captain,” chorused three voices in unison.

“I am not so sure about that,” rejoined Captain Atkinson. “You Border
Boys appear to have a remarkable faculty for getting into scrapes of
all kinds.”

“But, then, we always get out of them again,” struck in Walt Phelps
quite seriously, at which both Captain Atkinson and Mr. Reeves and the
boys themselves had to laugh.

“Do we start right away?” asked Walt anxiously.

“No; not until to–morrow morning. Mr. Reeves, however, will go on
ahead. I will give full instructions as to the road to take and there
will be no chance of your being lost.”

“As if we couldn’t find the road,” whispered Ralph indignantly to Walt.
“That would be a fine thing for full–fledged Rangers to do, wouldn’t
it?”

Soon after, Mr. Reeves said good–bye, as he had a long ride ahead of
him and could not expect to arrive home much before midnight. The rest
of that day the boys spent in getting their outfits ready. Baldy showed
them how to do up their kits in real Ranger fashion. In the town the
boys also procured for themselves Ranger hats and gauntlets, so that
when the time came for their departure the next morning they were three
as doughty looking Rangers as could have been found along the Rio
Grande.

“Good–bye, boys,” were Captain Atkinson’s parting words. “Keep out
of danger and remember that you are going on Rangers’ work as Texas
Rangers.”

“We won’t forget,” called back Jack, with a hearty ring in his voice.

“So–long! Yip–ye–e–e–ee!” yelled the Rangers.

“Yip! Yip!” shouted the boys.

Their three ponies bounded forward, and in a cloud of dust they
clattered through the town and out upon the plains upon the trail for
Lagunitas Rancho.

As they had a long trip before them, they did not ride fast after they
had passed the town limits, but allowed their ponies to adopt that
easy, single–footed gait known all over the west as the “cow trot.” At
noon they halted by some giant cottonwood trees to eat the lunch they
had brought with them. Large clumps of bright green grass grew in great
profusion all about, and the boys decided to let the ponies graze while
they ate. They made a hearty meal, washing it down with water from
their canteens. These canteens were covered with felt, which had been
well soaked with water before leaving camp.

The evaporation from the wet felt as the hot sun struck it kept the
fluid within the canteens fairly cool.

“Gee whiz! I just hate to go out into the hot sun again,” declared Walt
Phelps, throwing himself down on the ground and luxuriating in the
shade.

“Same here, but we’ve got to be pressing forward if we are to go on
duty to–night,” declared Jack.

“Thunderation!” fairly shouted Ralph, “do we have to go on duty
to–night?”

“Why, yes. You didn’t think we were going to Lagunitas for a vacation,
did you?” inquired Jack with a smile.

“N–n–no,” stammered Ralph, looking rather shamefaced, “but I thought
we’d have a rest before we started in.”

“I reckon Rangers do their work first and rest afterward. Isn’t that
the way, Jack?” asked Walt.

“I guess that’s it,” was the reply. “But let’s go and get the cayuses
and saddle up.”

“Well, I suppose what must be, must be,” muttered Ralph, with a groan
at the idea of leaving the friendly cottonwoods.

The three lads rose to their feet and looked about them. To their
dumbfounded amazement no ponies were to be seen.

“Great Scott, what can have become of them?” cried Jack.

“Stolen, maybe,” suggested Ralph.

“How on earth could that be? No one came near while we were resting.”

“But they are not to be seen,” objected Walt.

“Why, yes, they are,” cried Jack suddenly. “Look, they are all lying
down out yonder.”

“Gracious, they lie as if they were————” began Walt, when Ralph
interrupted him with a sharp cry of:

“Dead!”

In a moment the boys were at the side of their little mounts. The
animals lay stretched out as if they had not an ounce of life in their
bodies. But their hearts could be seen beating, and their nostrils
moved as the breath passed in and out; so it was quite evident that
they were alive.

“What on earth can have happened to them?” asked Jack.

“You’ve got me,” confessed Walt. “I can’t imagine.”

“It’s certain that they were all right and lively a few minutes ago,”
said Ralph.

“Not a doubt of it,” agreed Jack. “Well, then, it must be something
that they’ve eaten right here.”

“Yes, but what?” objected Ralph Stetson. “There’s nothing here for them
to eat but this grass.”

“Maybe it’s the grass, then. It _is peculiar_ looking grass, now you
come to look at it. Look at these funny tufts on it.”

“I guess you’re right, Walt,” agreed Jack, “but let’s try if we can’t
get the ponies on their feet. Maybe it will work off.”

Not without a lot of exertion were the ponies induced to stand up, and
then they appeared to be so sleepy that they could hardly keep their
feet.

“Let’s mount them and ride them up and down,” said Jack; “that may help
to work off whatever it is that ails them.”

The three lads mounted as Jack suggested and began riding their ponies
vigorously up and down under the cottonwoods. After a short time the
treatment did appear to be effective. The ponies’ eyes, which had been
dull and lifeless, brightened up and they shook their heads and tossed
their manes vigorously.

“Well, they seem to be all right again. I guess we’d better be pushing
on,” said Jack.

“Hold on a minute. Let’s take some of that grass along,” suggested
Walt. “Mr. Reeves may be able to tell us what it is.”

“That’s a good idea,” assented Jack.

Each of the boys picked a big bunch of the queer–looking grass and
stuffed it in his pocket. Then they rode on once more, the ponies
seeming to be as well as ever after their odd sleeping fit. It may be
said here that Mr. Reeves told them later on that the grass the ponies
had eaten was of a rare sort known as “lazy grass.” It grows in parts
of the southwest and is readily recognizable by its peculiar tufts.
It has the effect of a narcotic, and if taken in large quantities may
prove fatal. But the ponies had only eaten enough to make them sleepy,
fortunately for the boys.



CHAPTER XXIII.

THE HERMIT OF THE YUCCA.


Late that same afternoon the three boy travelers found themselves
riding amidst a perfect forest of stiff–armed yucca plants. Here
they came upon a small shack where lived a strange character of the
Texan wilds. This old man was known to the cowboys and ranchers who
passed that way as Mad Mat. He was supposed to have been driven to the
solitudes of the yucca desert by some unfortunate love affair, but of
this he never talked, and all concerning his former life was merely
rumor.

Hot and dusty as the boys were, they decided that it would be pleasant
to stop in at the shack and see if they could obtain some fresh water
and a cooked meal, for, although they had plenty of cold grub, they had
neglected to bring any cooking appliances. Jack knocked at the door of
the dilapidated shack and the boys, who had not been prepared for the
strange appearance of Mad Mat, almost shrank back as he appeared.

The old hermit was dressed in a collection of filthy rags, apparently
secured from all sources, for no two pieces matched. A long gray beard
hung almost to his waist, and out of the hairy growth which half
covered his face his eyes glowed like two coals of fire. However, he
did not appear half so formidable as he looked, and the boys concluded
that the old hermit of the yucca waste would be an interesting
character to study.

Mad Mat invited them cordially enough into his shack, and opened the
door to them with as consequential a flourish of his hand as if this
had been the dwelling place of an emperor. He lived, so he told them,
by tending his little flock of sheep, most of which, so rumor in that
part of the country had it, had been stolen from passing herds.

However that might be, Mad Mat was able to set forth some excellent
mutton before his hungry guests, and, although the surroundings were
not suited to the fastidious, the boys had roughed it too much in the
southwest to be over–particular.

They found Mad Mat talkative on every subject but himself. In fact,
when Ralph asked him where he came from the old man became quite angry
and glared at them out of his beard like an “owl in an ivy bush,” as
Ralph put it afterward.

Jack found an opportunity to draw Ralph aside and warned him that
it was not good policy in that country to ask personal questions of
strangers.

“Most of these odd characters of the plains have a reason for being out
here which they don’t like to talk about,” he said.

By way of changing the subject, Walt turned to that safe topic, the
weather.

“You evidently haven’t had much rain here lately?” he said.

“Nope,” rejoined Mad Mat in his odd, jerky way of talking; “no rain. No
rain for a year.”

“No rain for a year!” echoed the boys.

“That’s right. Maybe a drop now and then, but not to amount to
anything.”

“How do you get water then?” asked Ralph, for the ponies had been
watered from a big tub filled from a wooden pipe.

“Pipe it from a dry spring.”

“That’s a funny sort of spring—a dry one,” exclaimed Walt.

“It’s so, just the same,” replied the hermit, rather angrily. “We call
a dry spring one that you have to dig out, one that doesn’t come to the
surface. We find ’em with divining rods.”

“Well, it looks to me as if you might get some rain to–night,” said
Jack, who had risen and looked out of the door.

“I guess not,” said the hermit confidently. “The sheep ain’t baaing,
and they mos’ gen’ally always do afore rain.”

“Well, there’s something coming up then, or I’m no judge of weather.”

At the same time a low, distant rumbling was heard.

“Thunder!” cried Walt, springing to his feet.

“That’s what,” agreed Ralph. “I guess we are in for a wetting.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” said the hermit, shrugging his thin shoulders.

He rose and accompanied by Walt and Ralph came to the door, where Jack
was already standing.

“Goshen!” he exclaimed, “it is makin’ up its mind to suthin’, fer sure.”

Far off to the southwest lightning was ripping and tearing in livid
streaks across the sky. It had grown almost as black as night, and
there was a distinctly sulphurous smell in the air.

It was a magnificent sight as the storm swept down on them, although it
was also awe–inspiring. The sky grew like a black curtain spread above
the earth. Across it riven fragments of white cloud were driven, like
flying steam. Through this sable canopy the lightning tore and crackled
with vicious emphasis.

But, strangely enough, there was no rain. Instead, great clouds of dust
heralded the coming of the storm. The air was stifling and heavy, too,
like the breath from an open oven door.

“There ain’t much rain up yonder,” said the old hermit, his long white
hair and beard blown about wildly by the wind.

“No rain?” questioned Jack. “What is there, then?”

“Lightning,” exclaimed the old man, his eyes glowing strangely as he
spoke. It seemed that he rejoiced and triumphed in the advance of the
storm. He held his arms extended to the heavens like a prophet of olden
days.

Suddenly with an ear–splitting crash a bolt tore its way across the sky
and fell with a sizzling crash almost in front of the shanty. It bored
into the earth, throwing up a cloud of stones and dust on every side.
So great was the force of the explosion when it struck that Jack was
sent reeling back against the door post.

“No more of that for me,” said the boy. “I’m going inside.”

“A lot of good that will do you,” scoffed Walt Phelps. “It wouldn’t
much surprise me if this house was hit next.”

Ralph’s face turned pale as he heard. In truth the constant display
of heavenly artillery was discomposing. A green glare lit up the
surroundings, the yuccas standing out blackly against the constant
flashes.

The thunder, too, was terrific and incessant, shaking the earth as it
reverberated. All at once came a crash that seemed as if it must have
split the earth wide open. Balls of green and white fire spattered in
every direction. The boys were hurled helter–skelter all over the hut.
It was almost pitch dark, and they called to each other nervously. Not
one knew but that the other might have been killed or seriously injured.

But although bruised and badly scared, they were all right, it was
found. Yet as they scrambled to their feet the lightning outside showed
them a still form lying across the door of the hut.

“It’s the hermit!” cried Jack.

“He’s dead!” shouted Ralph.

“Hold on a minute,” warned Jack.

He went outside and Walt helped him drag the old man into the hut. The
lightning, by one of those freaks for which it is noted, had stripped
his miserable collection of rags right off him and there did not appear
to be much life in him.

The boys laid him on a table and then lighted a lantern, for it was too
dark to see but by artificial light. All this time the storm raged and
crashed alarmingly about them, but they were too intent on discovering
a spark of life in the old hermit to pay any attention to it.

“Get some water, quick!” ordered Jack.

There was a tub in one corner of the hut and the boys dipped cloths
into it, which Jack applied to the base of the old man’s skull. After
a time, to Jack’s great delight, the old hermit began to give signs of
recovery. He opened his queer, bloodshot eyes and looked up at the boys.

“How do you feel?” asked Jack.

“As if I’d bin kicked by a blamed mule,” answered Mad Mat.

The boys could not help laughing at his whimsical description of the
effects of the lightning.

“It took all the—the————”—Jack hesitated as to what to call the
hermit’s rags—“the clothes off you.”

“Consarn it, so it did,” grunted the old man, sitting up. “The last
time it hit me it did the same thing.”

“What! Have you been hit before?” demanded the boys in astonishment.

“Sure. This makes the third time, an’ I guess as I’ve got through this
safely, I’m all right now.”

“Well, that’s one way of looking at it,” declared Walt with a grin,
“but once would be quite enough for me.”

“Anyhow, it didn’t rain,” said the hermit triumphantly. “I told yer it
wouldn’t.”

It was all the boys could do to keep from breaking out into hearty
laughter at the strange old man who seemed to mind being hit by
lightning no more than any ordinary occurrence.

“Waal, now I’ve got to stitch all them rags together agin,” he said
presently in a complaining tone, regarding the scattered collection of
stuff that had been torn off him by the lightning.

“Gracious! I should think you’d get a new outfit,” declared Jack.

The hermit glowered at him.

“Git a new outfit? What’d I git a new outfit fer? Ain’t them clothes as
good as ever? All they want is stitching together agin and they’ll be
as good as new.”

So saying, he went outside, for the storm had passed over by this time,
and began gathering his scattered raiment.

“Hadn’t you better put on some clothes?” suggested Jack, trying to
stifle his laughter.

“Oh, that’s right!” exclaimed the hermit, who had apparently quite
forgotten that he was bereft of all garments. He returned to the shack,
put on an old blanket, and with this wrapped about him he set about
collecting his rags once more, grumbling to himself all the time.

“I s’pose that blame lightnin’ will hit one of my sheep next trip,” he
grunted, as if the fact that he had been struck was nothing compared
with the loss of one of his sheep.

“Speaking of sheep, we’d better go and see how the ponies are getting
along,” said Jack presently.

They ran to the rough shed where the ponies had been tied. Two of them,
they found, had been knocked down by a bolt, while the other was half
wild from fright. The two that had been struck were just struggling to
their feet.

The boys quieted their distressed animals and saddled them up ready to
depart from the strange old hermit and his abode.

“You can’t blame the ponies for being scared,” declared Jack with a
laugh; “being knocked out twice in one day is pretty tough.”

“Unless you’re a hermit,” laughed Walt, at which they all roared.

Jack handed the hermit some money to pay for their entertainment as
they were leaving. The old man took it without a word, except to say
that he would have to hurry and stitch a pocket on his rags so as to
have some place to put it.

Then, without a word of farewell, he continued picking up his scattered
raiment, and the last the boys saw of him he was still intent on his
odd task.



CHAPTER XXIV.

BY SHEER GRIT.


Owing to the delay caused by the storm, it was late when they reached
the Lagunitas Rancho. It was too dark for them to form any idea of the
place, but Mr. Reeves, who greeted them warmly, ushered them into a
long, low room hung with skins and trophies of the hunt, and ornamented
at one end by a huge stone fireplace. The boys were surprised to find
the ranch very comfortably furnished, almost luxurious, in fact. Every
comfort of civilization was to be found there, even down to a grand
piano and a phonograph. After a plentiful supper Mr. Reeves entertained
the boys with selections on both of these instruments.

The rancher was married and had three children, but his family was at
the time away on a visit to the East. Mr. Reeves said that while he
was sorry that the boys had not had an opportunity to meet them, he was
glad of their absence in another sense, for times were very troublous
along the Border.

It was decided that the boys were not to go on duty that night, but
would turn in early and spend the next day getting acquainted with the
ranch so that they could ride over it “blindfold,” as Mr. Reeves put
it. He informed them that he had six cowboys on duty, but that two
of them were not very reliable and could not be depended upon in an
emergency.

“I feel much easier in my mind now that I have three of the famous
Texas Rangers to help me out,” he said with a kindly smile.

“I hope we shall be able to live up to what the name stands for,” said
Jack gravely.

“Bravo, my lad; that’s the proper spirit,” declared the rancher warmly.

The boys slept that night in a comfortably furnished bedroom
containing three cots. Before daybreak they were awake and discussing
the coming day. Sunrise found them outside the ranch house, eagerly
inspecting their new surroundings. But, early as they were, Mr. Reeves
had been up before them and was ready to show them around.

“Now, you boys must each pick yourself out a pony,” he said, leading
them toward a big corral in which several ponies were running loose.

“But we have our own,” objected Ralph, who knew what western bronchos
are when they are first taken out of a corral.

“I know that,” responded Mr. Reeves, “but your ponies are pretty well
tuckered out after all they went through yesterday. Fresh mounts will
be very much better.”

“You have some fine ones here, too,” said Jack, who had been inspecting
the twenty or more cayuses in the corral.

“Yes, Lagunitas is famous for its stock,” was the response. “Will you
rope the ones you want for yourselves, or shall I tell a puncher to do
it for you?”

“We’d be fine Rangers if we couldn’t rope our own ponies,” laughed Jack.

So saying, he selected a rope from several which were hanging on the
corral posts. He tried it out and found it a good, pliant bit of
rawhide. In the meantime Walt and Ralph had each taken another “riata”
and were testing them.

So far as Ralph was concerned, his knowledge of lariat throwing was
strictly limited. He had practiced a bit on the Merrill ranch, but he
did not know much about the art—for an art it is to throw a rope with
precision and accuracy.

By this time several of the cow–punchers attached to the ranch had
assembled and watched the boys critically.

“Watch the Tenderfeet throw a rope, Bud,” said one of them, a short,
freckle–faced fellow.

“Waal, I don’t know but that tall one knows how to handle a lariat,”
rejoined Bud, fixing his eyes on Jack as he entered the corral with
his rope trailing behind him, the loop ready for a swing. As soon as
the boys were within the corral they started “milling” the ponies, as
it is called, that is, causing them to run round and round in circles.
In this work they were aided by the shrill whoops and yells of the
cow–punchers, who perched on the fence like a row of buzzards.

A buckskin pony with a white face and pink–rimmed eyes caught Jack’s
fancy, and in a jiffy his rope was swishing through the air. It fell
neatly about the buckskin’s neck, and Jack quickly brought the little
animal up with a round turn on the “snubbing post” in the center of the
corral. Then came Walt’s turn and after some difficulty he succeeded
in lassoing a small but wiry chestnut animal that looked capable of
carrying his weight finely.

Last of all came Ralph. He set his lips firmly and made the best cast
he knew how at a sorrel colt that was galloping past him. The cowboys
set up a jeering yell as they saw the way he handled his rope, and
Ralph flushed crimson with mortification. Again and again he cast his
rope, each time failing to land his animal. At last Mr. Reeves ordered
one of the punchers to catch the pony for him. Ralph, feeling much
humiliated, saw the sorrel caught with neatness and despatch.

“Must have bin practicing ropin’ with yer maw’s clothes line,” grinned
the cowboy who had effected the capture as he handed the pony over to
Ralph.

While this was going on Jack had secured his heavy stock saddle and
approached the buckskin to put it on its back. But the instant the
little brute saw the saddle it began a series of wild buckings,
lashing the air frantically with its hind feet.

“Now look out for fun!” yelled a cow–puncher.

“The kid’s got hold of old Dynamite,” laughed another.

Jack heard this last remark and realized from it that the pony he had
selected was a “bad one.” But he determined to stick it out.

Mr. Reeves came over to his side.

“I wouldn’t try to ride Dynamite, my boy,” he said. “He’s the most
unruly broncho on the ranch. Take a quieter one like your chums have.”

“I like this buckskin, sir, and, if you have no objection, I mean to
ride him,” spoke Jack quietly.

Something in the boy’s eye and the determined set of his mouth and chin
told the ranch owner that it would be useless to argue with Jack.

“At any rate, I’ll send Bud in to help you cinch up,” he volunteered.

“Thank you,” said Jack, keeping his eyes on the buckskin, which had his
ears laid back, and was the very picture of defiance.

Bud, grinning all over, came into the corral swinging a rope. He
skillfully caught the broncho’s legs and threw the refractory animal to
the ground. The instant the pony was down Jack ran forward and put a
blindfold over his eyes.

“Waal, I see you do know something,” admitted Bud grudgingly, “but you
ain’t never goin’ ter ride Dynamite.”

“Why not?”

“Cos there ain’t a puncher on this ranch kin tackle him and I ’low no
bloomin’ Tenderfoot is going ter do what an old vaquero kain’t.”

“Well, we’ll see,” said Jack, with a quiet smile.

Having blindfolded the pony, a “hackamore” bridle was slipped over his
head. To this Dynamite offered no resistance. The blindfold made him
quiet and submissive for the time being. When the bridle was in place
he was allowed to rise, and before the pony knew it, almost, Jack had
the saddle on his back and “cinched” up tightly. This done, the boy
threw off his hat, drew on a pair of gloves and adjusted his heavy
plainsman’s spurs with their big, blunt rowels.

“All right?” grinned Bud.

“All right,” rejoined Jack in the same quiet tone he had used hitherto.
To judge from outward appearances, he was as cool as ice; but inwardly
the Border Boy knew that he was in for a big battle.

“Waal, good–bye, kid, we’ll hev yer remains shipped back home,” shouted
a facetious puncher from the group perched on the fence.

“Dynamite ’ull send you so high you’ll get old coming down,” yelled
another.

“Better let the job out, kid,” said Bud. “We don’t want to commit
murder round here.”

“I guess I’m the best judge of that,” spoke Jack quickly. “Get ready to
cut loose that rope when I give the word, and take the lasso off the
snubbing post.”

[Illustration: THEN BEGAN A SERIES OF AMAZING BUCKS.]

This was quickly done and Dynamite stood free, but still blindfolded.
Jack poised on his tip toes and gave a light run forward. His hands
were seen to touch the saddle and the next instant he was in it. He
leaned forward and lifted the blindfold.

For an instant Dynamite stood shivering, his ears laid back, his eyes
rolling viciously. Then, before the broncho knew what had happened,
Jack’s quirt came down on his flank heavily.

“Yip!” yelled the cow–punchers.

“Yip! Yip!” called Jack, and hardly had the words left his mouth before
he was flying through the air over the pony’s head. Dynamite’s first
buck had unseated him. Mr. Reeves ran forward anxiously as Jack plowed
the ground. But his anxiety was needless. By the time he reached the
boy’s side Jack was up again, brushing the dirt of the corral from his
clothing. He was pale but determined.

“You see, I told you it was impossible,” said the ranch owner. “Give it
up.”

“Give it up!” exclaimed Jack. “Why, I’ve only just begun.”

“The kid’s got grit,” exclaimed a cowboy who had heard this last.

“Yep, more grit than sense, I reckon,” chimed another.

Jack picked up his rope once more and recaptured the buckskin, which
was trotting about the corral, apparently feeling that the fight was
over and he had won. Once more Bud held the rope while Jack vaulted
into the saddle.

This time, however, there was no preliminary pause. Dynamite plunged
straight into his program of unseating tactics.

With a vicious squeal the pony’s hind feet shot out and the next
instant as Jack jerked the little animal’s head up it caroomed into the
air, coming down with a stiff–legged jolt that jarred every nerve in
Jack’s body. Then began a series of amazing bucks. It seemed impossible
that anybody, much less a mere boy, could have stuck to the pony’s back
through such an ordeal.

“Wow! Dynamite’s sure steamboatin’ some!” yelled the cow–punchers.

Suddenly Dynamite ceased bucking.

“Look out for a side–jump!” shouted Mr. Reeves; but, even as he spoke,
it came.

The broncho gave a brain–twisting leap to the left, causing Jack to
sway out of his saddle to the right. Luckily he caught the pommel
and cantle just in time to save himself from being thrown. Dynamite
seemed surprised that he had not unseated his rider by his favorite and
oft–tried method. He repeated his famous side–jump. But Jack stuck like
a cockle–burr to a colt’s tail.

All at once the buckskin gave a semi–turn while in the air. It was a
variation of the regular “buck” that would have unseated half the
veteran cowboys perched on the corral fence watching the fight between
boy and broncho.

“Good fer you, kid!” they shouted enthusiastically, as Jack maintained
his seat.

“Stick to it, Jack!” chimed in the voices of Ralph and Walt.

But it is doubtful if Jack heard any of the applause. He was too busy
watching Dynamite’s antics. Suddenly the pony rushed straight at the
corral fence and tore along it as closely as he could without cutting
his hide. His object was to scrape off the hateful human who stuck so
persistently to his back. But Jack was as quick as the buckskin and as
the pony dashed along the fence he had one leg up over the saddle and
out of harm’s way.

All at once Dynamite paused. Then up went his head, his fore feet beat
the air furiously. Straight up he reared till he was standing almost
erect. Then without the slightest warning he toppled over backward.

A shout of alarm went up from the punchers, but Jack did not need it.
As the pony crashed to earth Jack was not there. He had nimbly leaped
from the saddle and to one side.

Before the buckskin could rise again Jack was straddling the saddle. As
the animal sprang up Jack was back in his seat once more with a sadly
perplexed broncho under him. Dynamite had tried everything, and more
too, that he had used on the ranch riders and all had failed to remove
the incubus on his back.

“Good for you, Jack. You’ve finished him!” yelled Walt Phelps.

“Don’t be too sure,” warned Mr. Reeves, who was standing by the boys.
“See the way those ears are set? That means more trouble coming.”

The words had hardly left the ranch owner’s mouth before the “trouble”
came. Dynamite darted off as if he had been impelled from a cannon’s
mouth. Then all at once he set his legs stiff and slid along the
ground, ploughing up dusty furrows with his hoofs in the soft earth of
the corral. Had Jack not been prepared for some such maneuver, he might
have been unseated. But he had guessed that something more was coming
off and so he was prepared. Hardly had Dynamite come to his abrupt stop
before he threw himself on his side and rolled over. If Jack had been
there, he would have been crushed by the pony’s weight—but he wasn’t.

As the pony rolled Jack stepped out of the saddle on the opposite side.
The moment he slipped off he picked up the loose end of the lariat
which was still around the pony’s neck.

“Yip! Get up!” he cried.

Dynamite, not thinking of anything but that he was free at last, was
off like a shot. But, alas! he reckoned without his host. As the
little animal darted off Jack took a swift turn of the rope around the
snubbing post. When Dynamite reached the end of the rope he got the
surprise of his life. His feet were jerked from under him and over he
went in a heap.

Before he could rise Jack was over him. As Dynamite struggled up Jack
resumed his seat in the saddle; but now he rode a different Dynamite
from the unsubdued buckskin he had roped a short time before. Trembling
in every limb, covered with sweat and dirt, and his head hanging down,
Dynamite owned himself defeated.

A great shout of applause went up from the cow–punchers and from Jack’s
chums.

“His name ain’t Dynamite no longer; it’s ‘Sugar Candy’!” shouted an
enthusiastic cow–puncher.

“Wow! but the kiddy is some rider,” yelled another.

“You bet!” came an assenting chorus of approval.

“Splendid work, my boy,” approved Mr. Reeves warmly, coming forward and
shaking Jack’s hand. “It was as fine an exhibition of horsemanship and
courage as ever I saw.”

“Thanks,” laughed Jack lightly. “I’ve got an idea that Dynamite and I
are going to be great chums. Aren’t we, little horse?”

Jack patted the buckskin’s sweating neck and the pony shook his head
as if he agreed with the boy who had conquered his fighting spirit by
sheer grit.



CHAPTER XXV.

THE GREAT STAMPEDE.


“How is it going, Jack? All quiet?”

Walt Phelps paused in his ride around the herd to address his chum.

“Yes, everything is going splendidly, Walt. Dynamite’s a real cow–pony.”

“No doubt about that. Well, I’ll ride on; we must keep circling the
herd.”

“You’re right. They seem a bit restless.”

Walt rode off with a word of farewell, while Jack flicked Dynamite with
the quirt and proceeded in the opposite direction.

The time was about midnight the night following Jack’s little argument
with Dynamite. Since nine o’clock the Border Boys had been on duty with
the Reeves herd. Under the bright stars the cattle were visible only as
a black, evershifting mass, round and round which the boys, Bud and
two cow–punchers circled unceasingly. Some of the animals were feeding,
others standing up or moving about. The air reeked of cattle. Their
warm breaths ascended into the cool night in a nebulous cloud of steam.

From far off came the sound of a voice singing, not unmusically, that
classic old ballad of the Texas cowman:

  _“Lie quietly now, cattle,
  And please do not rattle,
  Or else we will ‘mill’ you,
  As sure as you’re born._

  _A long time ago,
  At Ranch Silver Bow,
  I’d a sweetheart and friends,
  On the River Big Horn“_

Jack pulled up his pony for a minute and listened to the long drawn,
melancholy cadence. It was the cow–puncher’s way of keeping the cattle
quiet and easy–minded. Steers at night are about as panicky creatures
as can be imagined. The rustle of the night wind in the sagebrush, the
sudden upspringing of a jackrabbit, the whinnying of a pony, all these
slight causes have been known to start uncontrollable “stampedes“ that
have been costly both to life and property.

The night was intensely still. Hardly a breath of wind stirred. Except
for the occasional bellow of a restless steer or the never–ending
refrain of Bud’s song, the plains on the border of the Rio Grande were
as silent as a country churchyard.

Jack resumed his ride. He began whistling. It was not a cheerful tune
he chose. “Massa’s in the Cold, Cold Ground,” was his selection.
Somehow it seemed to the lad that such a tune was suited to the night
and to his task.

Jack’s course led him to the south of the herd, between the main body
of cattle and the Rio Grande. He kept a bright lookout as he passed
along the river banks. He knew that if trouble was coming, it was going
to come from that direction. Almost unconsciously he felt his holsters
to see if his weapons were all right.

Once he paused to listen. It was at a spot right on the river bank that
he made his halt. He was just about to ride on again, whistling his
lugubrious tune, when something odd caught his eye and set his heart to
thumping violently.

A head covered with a white hood containing two eyeholes had suddenly
appeared above the river bank. The next instant a score more appeared.
All wore the white hoods with the same ghastly eyeholes, giving them
the appearance of so many skulls.

Greatly startled and alarmed, Jack yet realized that the figures that
had appeared so suddenly must be those of cattle–stealing Mexican
rebels and that they had adopted the hoods with the idea of scaring the
superstitious cowboys. Hardly had he arrived at this conclusion before
the hooded horsemen rushed up the bank. They aimed straight for the boy.

Instantly Jack’s hand sought his holster.

Bang! Bang! Bang!

It was the three shots agreed upon as a signal of trouble. From far
back on the eastern side of the herd came an answer. Jack had just time
to hear it when the hooded band swept down upon him. He felt bullets
whiz past his ear and then, without exactly knowing how it happened, he
was riding for his life, crouched low on Dynamite’s withers.

Off to the north, east and west other six–shooters cracked and flashed.
The signal of alarm was being passed around rapidly. Jack was riding
for his life toward the west side of the herd. Behind him pressed
one of the hooded horsemen. All the others had been distanced by the
fleet–footed Dynamite. But this man behind him clung on like grim
death.

From time to time he fired, but at the pace they were going his aim was
naturally poor and none of the bullets went near the fleeing boy on the
buckskin pony.

The air roared in Jack’s ears as he dashed along. All at once he became
conscious of another roar, the roar of hundreds of terrified steers.
Horns crashed and rattled. Startled bellows arose. Then off to the east
came more firing. Jack judged by this that most of the hooded band had
gone off in that direction and were now engaged in fighting with Bud
and the rest of the cattle watchers.

The next instant the lad became conscious of a thunderous sound that
seemed to shake the earth. It was the roar and rush of thousands of
hoofs.

“The cattle have stampeded!” gasped Jack to himself, and the next
instant:

“The firing to the east has started them off; and I am right in their
path.”

He swung his pony in an effort to cut off part of the herd. But through
the darkness they thundered down on him like a huge overpowering wave
of hoofs and horns. Jack fired with both his six–shooters, hoping to
turn the stampede; but he might as well have saved his cartridges. No
power on earth can stop stampeding cattle till they get ready to quit.

Jack was in the direst peril. But he did not lose his head. He swung
Dynamite around once more and urged him forward. It was a race for life
with the maddened cattle. He had lost all thought of the hooded rider
who had pursued him so closely. His sole idea now was to escape alive
from the stampede behind him. Had he dared, he would have tried to cut
across the face of it. But he knew that he stood every chance of being
trapped should he do so. He therefore decided to trust to Dynamite’s
fleetness and sure–footedness. It made him shudder to think what would
befall him if the pony happened to get his foot in a gopher hole and
stumble.

A Texas steer in a stampede can travel every bit as fast as a pony, and
it was not long before the steers were in a crescent–shaped formation,
with Jack riding for his life in about the center of the half moon. On
and on they thundered in the mad race. To Jack it felt as if they were
beginning to go down hill, but he was not certain. Nor had he the least
idea of the direction in which he was going. He bent all his faculties
on keeping ahead of that hoofed and horned wave behind him.

Dynamite went like the wind. But even his muscles began to flag under
the merciless strain after a time. He felt the effects of his strenuous
lesson of the morning. Jack was forced to ply quirt and spur to keep
him on his gait. But the signs that the pony was playing out dismayed
the boy. His life depended on Dynamite’s staying powers, and they were
only too plainly diminishing.

The slope down which they were dashing was a fairly steep one,
which accounted for Jack’s feeling the grade. It led into a broad,
sandy–bottomed, dry water course, or “arroyo” as they are called in the
west. But of this, of course, Jack was unaware.

All at once Jack felt Dynamite plunge into a thick patch of
grease–wood. The pony slowed up as he encountered the obstruction, but
Jack’s quirt and spur urged him into it. But that momentary pause had
been nearly fatal. Jack could now almost feel the hot breath of the
leading cattle. Despite his grit and courage, both of sterling quality,
Jack’s heart gave an uncomfortable bound. He felt his scalp tighten at
the narrowness of his escape. But still he urged Dynamite on. Luckily
he wore stout leather “chaps,” or the brush would have torn his limbs
fearfully.

Dynamite tore on, with seemingly undiminished valor, but Jack knew that
the end was near.

“Only a few yards more, and then————” he thought, when he felt a
different sensation.

It filled him with alarm. He was dropping downward through the air.
Down he plunged, while behind him came the thunder of the maddened
steers.

“Good heavens! Is this the end?” was the thought that flashed through
the boy’s mind in that terrible fraction of time when he felt himself
and his pony dropping through space.

The next instant he felt the pony hit the ground under him. Like a
stone from a slingshot, Jack was catapulted out of the saddle. He
landed on the ground some distance from the pony. He was shaken and
bruised, but he was up in a flash. In another instant the steers would
be upon him. He would be crushed to a pulp under their hoofs unless he
found some means of escape.

“If I don’t do something quick, it’s good–bye for me,” he told himself.

In frantic haste he looked about for some means of saving himself.
All at once he spied through the darkness the black outlines of a
cottonwood tree. In a flash his plan was formed. He slipped behind the
trunk of the cottonwood, using it as a shield between himself and the
oncoming cattle.

Hardly had he slipped behind his refuge when an agonized cry came to
his ears, the cry of a human being in mortal terror. Jack peered from
behind his tree trunk. As he did so the form of a man rolled almost to
his feet and lay still.

With a thrill Jack recognized the white hood the figure wore and knew
it must be the hooded horseman who had pursued him. Like himself, the
man had been caught in the stampede and been thrown from his horse
almost at the foot of the tree. Exerting all his strength, Jack pulled
the man into shelter behind the tree scarcely a second before the
crazed steers were upon them. In their blind frenzy of terror many of
them dashed headlong into the tree, stunning and killing themselves.
But the main herd swept by on both sides, leaving Jack and the
unconscious man in a little haven of safety behind the tree trunk.

Jack found himself wedged in between two barricades of bellowing,
galloping steers, and for his deliverance from what had seemed certain
death a few minutes before he offered up a fervent prayer of thanks.

For some time the rush continued and then thinned out to a few
stragglers. At last Jack thought it safe to emerge from behind his
tree. In front of it lay several dead cattle, their brains knocked out
by the force with which they had collided with the cottonwood. A few
injured animals limped about moaning piteously. Some of them were so
badly injured that Jack, who could not bear to see an animal suffer,
put them out of their misery with his six–shooter.

It was now time to turn his attention to the hooded man. The fellow had
been stunned when he was thrown from his horse; but he was now stirring
and groaning. Jack bent over him and pulled off his hood. As he did so
he staggered back with an amazed exclamation.

The face the starlight revealed was that of Alvarez, the man whose
destiny had been so oddly linked with Jack’s!

“Where am I? What has happened?” exclaimed the man in Spanish as he
opened his eyes.

“’You have been engaged in the despicable work of cattle stealing,
Alvarez,” spoke Jack sternly. “If you had not been thrown at my very
feet, you would have perished miserably under the hoofs of the herd you
planned to steal.”

At the first sound of Jack’s voice Alvarez had staggered painfully to
his feet. Now he uttered a cry.

“It is you, Señor Merrill! I thought you were miles from here.”

“Well, I am not, as you see. Are you badly hurt?”

“I do not know. I think my arm is broken. It pains fearfully.”

“I will examine it by daylight. Are you armed?”

“I was, señor, but I lost my pistol in that fearful ride before the
stampede.”

The man’s tone was cringing, whining almost. Jack felt nothing but
contempt for him. He held that the Mexican revolutionists were about
as much in the right as the government troops; but cattle stealing
on the Border is a serious offense and Jack Merrill was a rancher’s
son. He made no reply to Alvarez, but, telling him to remain where he
was, he went off to see if he could find some water to bathe the man’s
injuries, for, besides his injured arm, he had a nasty cut on the head.

He did not find water and was returning to the tree rather downcast,
when through the darkness ahead of him he saw something moving. The
object was not a steer, he was sure of that. He moved cautiously toward
it, his heart beating with a hope he hardly dared to entertain.

But at last suspicion grew to certainty.

“It’s my pony! It’s Dynamite!” he breathed, not daring to make a noise
lest the pony take fright and dash off.

Cautiously he crept up on the little animal. He now saw as he drew
closer that another horse was beside it. He had no doubt that this
latter beast was the one Alvarez had ridden. How the horses had escaped
death or serious injury Jack could not imagine; but escape it they had,
although they both stood dejectedly with heads hung down and heaving
flanks.

“Whoa, Dynamite! Whoa, boy!” whispered Jack, moving up to the broncho
with outstretched hand.

Dynamite stirred nervously. He pricked up his ears. Jack crept forward
once more. In this way he got within a few feet of the pony. Then he
decided to make a dash for it. He flung himself forward, grabbed the
pommel of the saddle and swung himself on to Dynamite’s back. With a
squeal of fear the pony started bucking furiously.

“Buck all you want,” laughed Jack. “I’ve got you now and, by ginger, if
I can do it, I mean to get back those cattle, too.”

Dynamite soon quieted down and then Jack set himself to catching the
horse Alvarez had ridden. This was not an easy task, but the brute was
not so fiery as Dynamite, and at last Jack got him. The dawn was just
flushing up in the east when Jack, leading the Mexican’s horse, rode
back toward the cottonwood tree. Alvarez, looking pale and old, sat
where Jack had left him.

He glanced up as the boy approached, but said nothing. Jack hitched the
horses and then examined the Mexican’s arm. He decided that it was not
broken, only badly sprained. He concluded, therefore, that the Mexican
was quite able to perform the task he had laid out for him.

“Get on your horse, Alvarez,” he ordered.

“Si, señor,” rejoined the swarthy Alvarez without comment.

Only when he was mounted and Jack told him to ride in front of him, did
he inquire what was to be done with him.

“You are going to help me drive those cattle back first,” said Jack
grimly. “Then we’ll decide on what comes next.”

In silence they rode up the far bank of the arroyo and the plain lay
spread out before them. Jack could not restrain a cry of joy as in the
distance he saw a dark mass closely huddled. It was the missing band of
steers.

“Now, Alvarez,” he warned sternly, “what will happen to you may depend
on just how we restore his property to Mr. Reeves. Do you understand?”

“Si, señor,” nodded the man, whose spirit appeared completely broken.

They rode up cautiously. But the steers appeared to be as quiet as so
many sheep and merely eyed them as they approached. The animals were in
pitiful shape after their frantic gallop and one look at them showed
Jack that he would have no trouble in driving them back to the home
ranch once they were got moving.

Keeping a sharp eye on Alvarez, he ordered the Mexican to begin
“milling” the steers, that is, riding them around and around till they
were bunched in a compact mass. This done, the drive began. At times
Jack hardly knew how he kept in his saddle. He was sick, faint, and
thirsty, with a burning thirst. The dust from the trampling steers
enveloped him, stinging nostrils and eyes, and, besides all this, he
dared not take his eyes off Alvarez for an instant.

The boy surveyed himself. He was a mass of scratches and bruises, his
shirt was ripped and hung in shreds, his chaperajos alone remained
intact. Even his saddle was badly torn, and, as for the poor buckskin,
he was in as bad shape as his master.

“Well, I am a disreputable looking object,” thought the boy. “The
Rangers wouldn’t own me if they could see me now.”

       *       *       *       *       *

It was late afternoon at the Reeves ranch when Bud and the two boys
rode in with the news that they could find no trace of the missing
cattle. Nor, of course, had they any news of Jack. Mr. Reeves was much
downcast at this, almost as much so as Walt and Ralph. Yet somehow the
two latter felt sure that Jack would come out all right.

They had not had an easy night of it, either. The battle to the
eastward of the herd that had started the stampede had resulted in a
flesh wound for Walt and a bad cut on the hand for Ralph. But the boys
and the cow–punchers had managed to make prisoners of ten of the hooded
Mexicans, so that they felt they had not done a bad night’s work. If
only they had possessed a clew to Jack’s fate, they would, in fact,
have been jubilant. Ralph’s behavior during the fight had quite won him
back the respect he had lost by his poor exhibition with the rope. The
Border Boys were declared “the grittiest ever” by every puncher on the
range.

The ten prisoners were confined in the barn, but they all denied
vigorously having seen anything of Jack. They confessed that their raid
had been made for the purpose of getting beef for the rebel army, which
had been practically starved out by the government troops.

Bud had just dismounted by the corral and Walt and Ralph were
dispiritedly doing the same when Mr. Reeves uttered a shout and
pointed to the far southwest.

“Wonder what that is off there, that cloud of dust!” he exclaimed.

“I’ll get the glasses, boss,” declared Bud.

He dived into the house and speedily reappeared with a pair of powerful
binoculars such as most stockmen use.

Mr. Reeves applied them to his eyes and gazed long and carefully at the
distant object that had attracted his attention.

“What is it?” demanded Bud.

“I don’t know yet. I can’t see for dust. But I’m pretty sure it’s a
band of cattle.”

Walt and Ralph held their breaths.

“_Our_ cattle?” almost whispered Bud, in a tense voice.

“I can’t be sure. It might be any band of steers crossing the state.
Tell you what, Bud, saddle the big sorrel for me and we’ll go and find
out.”

Ten minutes later the band of horsemen was riding at top speed toward
the distant moving objects. As they drew closer it was seen that they
were unmistakably cattle. All at once Bud gave a sharp cry.

“Boss, they’re our cows. See the big muley steer in front? That’s old
Abe. I’d know him among a thousand.”

“By George, Bud, you’re right! But who can be driving them?”

He was interrupted by a mighty shout from Ralph Stetson.

“It’s Jack!” he cried.

“It _is_ the broncho bustin’ Tenderfoot as sure as you’re a foot high!”
bawled out Bud.

“But who’s that with him?” demanded Walt.

“Dunno; looks like a greaser,” growled Bud, who had no liking for the
“brown brothers” across the Border.

And then, at the risk of starting another stampede, the cavalcade
dashed forward, waving their hats and yelling like wild Indians.

Mr. Reeves rode right down on Jack.

“Boy, you’re a wonder. How did you do it? No; stop; don’t tell me now.
I can see you’re about tuckered out. How are you?”

“Roasted out,” rejoined Jack with an attempt at a smile. But his voice
was hoarse as a crow’s and his lips were too baked and cracked to smile
naturally.

“Great heavens, boy, you’ve been through an awfully tough ordeal, I can
see that. But who is this personage here?”

Mr. Reeves indicated Alvarez, who shrank under his gaze.

Jack forced his voice out of his parched throat.

“That is my assistant driver, Mr. Reeves,” he said. “We have had a
good deal of talk as we came along and he tells me that he has a great
longing to go back to his own country and _stay there_. He knows what
it means if he comes back across the Border again, don’t you, Alvarez?”

“Si, Señor Merrill,” stammered the Mexican while Bud glowered at him.

“There’s something behind all this, Jack, that I can partly guess at,”
declared Mr. Reeves, “but if you really want him to go, let him go.”

“You hear?” croaked Jack in Spanish.

“Si, señor.”

“Then go.”

The Mexican wheeled his horse, doffed his peaked hat in a graceful wave
and in a loud, clear voice shouted:

“Adios, señors!”

He struck his spurs home and brought down his quirt. His horse sprang
forward. Straight for the Rio Grande he rode and vanished over its
northern bank. Five minutes later he was off American soil. On the
opposite bank he paused once more, wheeled his horse and waved his
sombrero in token of farewell. Then he vanished, so far as the boys
were concerned, forever.

“Now, forward,” cried Mr. Reeves. “Bud, you hold the cattle here till I
send out some boys to help you bring them in. Jack, you come with us at
once. You need doctoring up.”

“Can’t I stay and bring the cattle in?” pleaded Jack.

“Son,” said the rancher in a deep voice, “you’ve _done_ your duty; mine
begins now. I haven’t heard your story yet, but I’ll bet my last dollar
that you’ve done a big thing out there, and that the Rangers will be
mighty proud of their boy recruits.”

And then they rode forward to the ranch house and food and drink, and
later to the unfolding of Jack’s story.

As Mr. Reeves had prophesied, the Rangers were proud of their young
comrades. And not only the circle of Rangers, but the whole state of
Texas rang with their praises until the boys were afraid to look at a
newspaper. As for Jack’s generous action in letting Alvarez go free,
none but Captain Atkinson, Mr. Reeves and the Border Boys themselves
knew of it, though Bud suspected, or “suspicioned” as he called it.

A few days later the revolution was crushed, and they heard afterward
that Alvarez had died fighting bravely for what he deemed the right
cause. A few days later, too, the boys had to leave their kind Texan
friends and wend their way homeward.

And now we, too, have reached the parting of the ways so far as this
part of the Border Boys’ adventures is concerned. Here, for a time,
we will take leave of our young friends, wishing them well till we
meet them again in further stirring adventures. What befell them
after leaving Texas and how they acquitted themselves in scenes and
situations as exciting and thrilling as any through which they have yet
passed, will all be related in the next volume of this series, which
will be called: “THE BORDER BOYS IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES.”


                               THE END.



                          _SAVE THE WRAPPER!_


_IF_ you have enjoyed reading about the adventures of the new friends you
have made in this book and would like to read more clean, wholesome
stories of their entertaining experiences, turn to the book jacket—on
the inside of it, a comprehensive list of Burt’s fine series of
carefully selected books for young people has been placed for your
convenience.

_Orders for these books, placed with your bookstore or sent to the
Publishers, will receive prompt attention._



[Illustration: BOOK COVER]

Border Boys Series


By Fremont B. Deering

Mexican and Canadian Frontier Stories for Boys 12 to 16 Years.

PRICE, 50 CENTS EACH

POSTAGE 10c EXTRA

_With Individual Jackets in Colors._

Cloth Bound


 BORDER BOYS ON THE TRAIL

 BORDER BOYS ACROSS THE FRONTIER

 BORDER BOYS WITH THE MEXICAN RANGERS

 BORDER BOYS WITH THE TEXAS RANGERS

 BORDER BOYS IN THE CANADIAN ROCKIES

 BORDER BOYS ALONG THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER


For sale by all booksellers, or sent on receipt of price by the
Publishers

A. L. BURT COMPANY, 114–120 E. 23d St., NEW YORK



                         TRANSCRIBER’S NOTE:

—Obvious print and punctuation errors were corrected.





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